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MUSICIANS AT RISK FOR SPEAKING OUT

Musicians are the latest target in Cameroon's quest to silence critics of the recent constitutional amendments that eliminate term limits for the President, report the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and the Network of African Freedom of Expression Organizations (NAFEO). Elsewhere in Africa, Ethiopian police have detained an editor and seized a magazine over the cover story of a pop icon, say the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association (EFJA) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Lapiro de Mbanga, a prominent Cameroonian protest singer and a known member of the opposition party Social Democratic Front, was arrested on 9 April and accused of masterminding February's riots against the high cost of living. According to MFWA sources, Mbanga's arrest was tied to a song he wrote called "Constipated Constitution", which warns President Paul Biya of the amendments' dangers.

Joe La Conscience, who also wrote a song condemning the amendments of the constitution, was arrested in March and sentenced to six months' imprisonment, allegedly for arranging an "unlawful" sit-in at the U.S. Embassy in Yaoundé. La Conscience was reportedly protesting against the closure of leading broadcasters Equinoxe TV and Radio Equinoxe in connection with their coverage of the ongoing crisis. The day after his non-violent protest, security forces stormed his home in Loum and killed his 11-year-old son, say news reports.

The Constitutional Amendment Bill, adopted by the National Assembly in Cameroon on 10 April, allows an unlimited number of presidential mandates, which critics say empowers President Paul Biya to continue to rule for life. The amendments also grant immunity to the President for any acts committed by him during his time in office.

Freemuse, a free expression organisation for musicians and composers, is leading a campaign in support of the two arrested singers. Get involved, at: http://www.freemuse.org/sw26753.asp

Meanwhile, a magazine with a cover story about the imprisonment of Ethiopia pop singer Teddy Afro was seized on 2 May and its editor and three support staff were themselves jailed, a move coinciding with World Press Freedom Day, says the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association (EFJA).

Ten thousand copies of the monthly entertainment magazine "Enku" were impounded by police on 2 May, the day before it was due to hit the newsstands. The publisher and deputy editor of the magazine, Alemayehu Mahtemework, was put in jail, along with three support staff.

CPJ says that police impounded the paper allegedly after receiving a tip from an informant at the printer that the cover story could lead to "incitement".

The story focused on the trial of reggae star Teddy Afro, whose real name is Tewodros Kassahun. Kassahun was arrested and charged last month with causing the death of a young man in a hit and run accident in November 2006.

Kassahun's popular song, "Jah Yasteseryal", became a popular anthem of anti-government protesters during unrest following the disputed 2005 parliamentary elections, according to local sources.

Despite releasing 15 Ethiopian journalists who were jailed on trumped-up anti-state charges last year in connection with a brutal 2005 media crackdown, Ethiopian authorities have not relented in their long-standing pattern of repression of independent media through intimidation and arrests, CPJ says.

Visit these links:
- MFWA/NAFEO: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/92941/
- "IFEX Communiqué" on Equinoxe closures (4 March 2008): http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/91385
- EFJA: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/93309/
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/6jtgjn
(6 May 2008)

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