CAMEROON: Lapiro De Mbanga, Singer-songwriter
“Le Chef de l’Etat est pris au piège des réseaux qui l’obligent à rester au pouvoir alors qu’il est fatigué…Libérez le Big katika» («The Head of State is caught in the trap of networks that oblige him to stay in power even though he is tired… Free Big katika [President Biya’s nickname]»).
(An extract from Mbanga’s banned protest song “Constipated Constitution” – listen here:

The well known singer-songwriter Lapiro De Mbanga (real name: Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo) has been imprisoned since April 2008 and is serving a three-year sentence for alleged complicity in anti-government riots. Mbanga is known as an outspoken critic of the government, both as a songwriter and an opposition party member, and it is feared that the sentence was in fact passed in reprisal for his lyrics criticising the government.

Mbanga (52), who is also a member of the opposition party Social Democratic Front (SDF) and a traditional chief, was arrested in Mbanga City on 9 April 2008. He was accused of instigating mass demonstrations and strikes against the high cost of living which took place in Cameroon at the end of February 2008 and which the authorities say led to the deaths of at least 40 people. Formally charged on 9 July 2008, Mbanga was sentenced to three years in prison on 24 September. He was also ordered to pay a fine of 280 million CFA francs (US$640,000) payable to the company Société des Plantations de Mbanga (SPM) and the Ministry of Finance as compensation for damage caused during the riots.

However, according to the Media Foundation for Western Africa (MFWA), Mbanga’s arrest stemmed from a protest song he wrote entitled “Constipated Constitution” which warns President Biya of the dangers of the constitutional amendments, and which is reportedly banned on some Cameroonian TV and radio stations. The Constitutional Amendment Bill, which was adopted on 10 April 2008, allows an unlimited number of presidential mandates (President Biya is 76 and has been in office for 27 years), as well as granting the President immunity for any acts committed while in office.

There are concerns that Mbanga’s trial was unfair. The songwriter was reportedly convicted on the grounds that his presence during the protests, as a local leader, had galvanised the rioters. It was further argued that he would not have been allowed to film the events, as he did, had he been an outsider. This therefore made him an accomplice. However, according to local press reports, the riots were widely televised and none of the journalists who filmed the footage have been brought to trial. Moreover, Mbanga’s sentence is twice that received by the actual leaders of the riots, who were handed 18-month prison terms the month after the riots and were subsequently pardoned. The government has denied that the case is politically motivated.

On 24 June 2009, an appeal court in Yaoundé confirmed Mbanga’s three-year prison sentence. The fines for allegedly damaging property were also upheld, even though the company SPM had reportedly long since withdrawn from the case. Mbanga was also ordered to pay the costs of the trial. The fines and trial costs were to be paid immediately or be converted into an extra 18 months in prison. The appeal court ignored the defence’s arguments that as Mbanga was convicted as an accomplice he should not be given a heavier sentence than the main instigators of the riots, most of whom had by then been released. Mbanga’s lawyers planned to take the appeal to the Supreme Court in the capital Yaoundé. However, Mbanga said told Freedom of Musical Expression (Freemuse): “This is a political case, and I can now only hope of justice at an international court.”

Mbanga is being held in New Bell prison in Douala. Conditions, including food and hygiene, are said to be poor and it is understood he has developed health problems since his imprisonment. For more information and updates on Lapiro de Mbanga’s case, see Freemuse: Free Muse

The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN protests the three-year prison sentence and exorbitant fine imposed on singer-songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga for alleged complicity in anti-government protests. The WiPC fears that the sentence has been imposed in reprisal for Mbanga’s critical lyrics and, as such, is in violation of his right to freedom of expression. It calls on the Cameroonian authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally.

What you can do:
Letters of appeal calling for Mbanga’s immediate and unconditional release may be sent to:

President Paul Biya
Fax: +237 22 22 08 70

Messages may also be sent via the Presidency’s website:
République du Cameroun – Présidence de la République

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Cameroon in your country if possible.

Please send copies of any replies you may receive from the authorities to Tamsin Mitchell at the International PEN head office in London – address below.

CHINA: Liu Xiaobo, Dissident writer
Before you enter the grave
Don’t forget to write me with your ashes
Do not forget to leave your address in the nether world

Liu Xiaobo, leading dissident writer, former President and current Board member of Independent Chinese PEN Centre, has been detained since 8 December 2008 for signing Charter 08, a declaration calling for political reforms and human rights. He was formally charged on 23 June 2009 with ‘incitement to subversion of state power’, and his case remains under investigation by the police. If prosecuted and convicted he faces up to fifteen years in jail. He is among over forty writers currently detained in the P.R.China.

Liu Xiaobo is among a large number of dissidents to have been detained or harassed after issuing an open letter calling on the National People’s Congress Standing Committee to ratify the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and launching Charter 08, a declaration calling for political reforms and human rights published on 9 December 2008. These activities were part of campaigns to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (10 December), and were initially signed by over 300 scholars, journalists, freelance writers and activists and now have over 8000 signatories from throughout China. Charter 08 can be found in English:

Liu Xiaobo was held under Residential Surveillance, a form of pre-trial detention, at an undisclosed location in Beijing until he was formally charged on 24 June 2009. According to the official Xinhua news agency, he is accused of ‘spreading rumours and defaming the government, aimed at subversion of the state and overthrowing the socialist system in recent years’. He is said to have confessed to the charges against him. Liu Xiaobo is being held at the No. 1 Detention Centre of Beijing City.  He has been held with very limited access to his lawyer and family visits throughout his detention.
Liu Xiaobo first received support from International PEN in 1989, when he was one of a group of writers and intellectuals given the label the “Black Hands of Beijing” by the government and arrested for their part in the Tiananmen Square protests. Prior to his current arrest, Liu has spent a total of five years in prison, including a three year sentence passed in 1996, and has suffered frequent short arrests, harassment and censorship. In January 2009 over 300 writers signed a petition calling for his release.

The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN considers the continued detention of Liu Xiaobo to be a breach of international standards guaranteeing freedom of expression and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

What you can do:

Letters of appeal calling for the release of Liu Xiaobo may be sent to:
His Excellency Hu Jintao
President of the People’s Republic of China
State Council
Beijing 100032
P.R. China

Please note that there are no fax numbers for the Chinese authorities. WiPC recommends that you copy your appeal to the Chinese embassy in your country asking them to forward it and welcoming any comments.

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for China in your country if possible.

Please send copies of any replies you may receive from the authorities to Cathy McCann at the International PEN head office in London – address below.

IRAN: Maziar Bahari, journalist, editor, playwright and film-maker
Leading Canadian-Iranian journalist, editor, playwright and film-maker Maziar Bahari has been detained without charge since 21 June 2009. He is among scores of journalists and leading reformists to have been arrested in Iran following the disputed presidential elections on 12 June 2009. Concerns for his well-being are mounting.

According to PEN’s information, Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari, who has lived and worked in Tehran for the past ten years and who has dual Canadian-Iranian citizenship, was arrested on 21 June 2009. He remains detained with minimal contact to his wife and family and no access to a lawyer., He is believed to be among around one hundred opposition leaders and dissidents accused of fomenting a ‘velvet revolution’ although he still hasn’t been formally charged. International PEN is gravely concerned by an alleged ‘confession’ published on 30 June 2009 by an Iranian state news agency, in which Bahari admits to participating in an alleged Western media effort to promote irresponsible reporting in Iran. Bahari’s arrest is part of a major crackdown on dissent which has seen unprecedented restrictions on the foreign media in Iran. There have been widespread arbitrary arrests of journalists and leading reformist figures, in flagrant violation of Iran’s commitments to human rights, free expression and legal due process under the Iranian constitution.

Maziar Bahari, aged 42, is a widely respected and award-winning commentator on social and cultural issues both within Iran and beyond. He is one of the few film-makers to have worked in Iraq since the U.S-led 2003 invasion, and in addition to two documentary films he made about the Iraq war, he has written two plays based on his reporter’s notes and interview scripts, A Fairly Justified Revenge and Romance in Abu Ghraib. His colleague and friend Malu Halasa, with whom he edited the anthology Transit Tehran: Young Iran and Its Inspirations (2009), describes his plays as ‘rare examples of the crossover between Middle East reportage and theatre’.

Maziar Bahari has made at least ten films in as many years, which have brought him both controversy and acclaim. He explores difficult social issues including drug addiction, women’s rights and homosexuality. The Harvard Film Archives describe his films as providing ‘…a glimpse inside contemporary Iranian culture as they reveal the human element behind the headlines and capture cultural truths through the lens of individual experience.’ Since 1998, Bahari has been Newsweek magazine’s Iran correspondent.

Maziar Bahari and his wife are expecting their first child in late 2009.

International PEN reminds the Iranian authorities of their obligations to Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which it is a signatory, and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Maziar Bahari and all those currently detained in Iran for peacefully exercising their right to free expression.

Read Bahari’s article on the current protests published on 17 June 2009:
Who’s Behind Tehran’s Violence?

Read a moving testimony to Bahari’s work by Malu Halasa:

Iran: what Ahmadinejad won’t mention at the UN

What you can do:

Letters of appeal calling for the release of Maziar Bahari may be sent to:
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic
His Excellency Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei,
The Office of the Supreme Leader
Shoahada Street, Qom, Islamic Republic of Iran

Head of the Judiciary
His Excellency
Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi
Ministry of Justice, Park-e Shahr,
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email:   via Judiciary website:
Salutation: Your Excellency

Please send copies of any replies you may receive from the authorities to Cathy McCann at the International PEN head office in London – address below.

MEXICO: Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila, anthropologist, author and activist (d. 26 July 2008)
Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila, anthropologist, author and indigenous rights activist, was beaten to death in Guerrero state, southern Mexico, on 25/26 July 2008. More than a year later, there has been silence from the Mexican authorities on the subject of the investigation and the crime remains unsolved. Gutiérrez is just one of 25 writers murdered in Mexico between 2004 and today, the majority of them print journalists.

Gutiérrez, anthropologist, linguist, author of a number of books on the indigenous people of Guerrero state (see Background below for titles) and activist for the rights of the Amuzgo indigenous people, was killed late on 25 July 2008 or the early hours of 26 July 2008 while driving towards the capital of Guerrero, Chilpancingo de los Bravo. His body was found covered in bruises and cuts by the side of the Acapulco-Pinotepa highway near La Caridad community in the municipality of San Marcos, Guerrero, on the morning of 26 July 2008. Although initial police reports suggested that Gutiérrez died as the result of a car accident, it was later thought that he was beaten to death. According to his family, the vehicle in which Gutiérrez was travelling was untouched and only his filming equipment had been stolen.

A few days before his death, between 23 and 25 July 2008, Gutiérrez had visited the Suljaa’ and Cozoyoapan communities in Costa Chica, Guerrero, in connection with a documentary film he was making on indigenous cultures and traditions. Gutiérrez had been carrying out research into the indigenous people of southern Guerrero for more than 20 years, particularly in Costa Chica, and had been involved in various cultural projects there, including the community radio station Radio Ñomndaa/ La Palabra del Agua (The Word of the Water) and the establishment of the first Amuzgo community library. During his last visit to the area, Gutiérrez documented alleged human rights violations on the part of the authorities against the staff of Radio Ñomndaa, including an interview with one of the station’s founders, which he reportedly intended to include in his documentary.

According to local press reports at the time of Gutiérrez’ death, one lead pointed to the involvement of Aceadeth Rocha Ramírez, mayor of Xochistlahuaca municipality in Costa Chica. Rocha is allegedly one of a number of local political leaders opposed to indigenous movements and Radio Ñomndaa. Another lead reportedly suggested that Gutiérrez may have angered the authorities by filming members of the Federal Investigations Agency (Agencia Federal de Investigación, AFI) while they were conducting a raid on the radio station.

In August 2008, PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee and PEN members wrote to the Guerrero state and federal authorities asking them to ensure that a full and impartial investigation into Gutiérrez’ murder was carried out and that those responsible were brought to justice. However, more than a year after the killing, there has been no response from the authorities; nor have we received any reports on the progress of the investigation from other sources. Our understanding is that the crime remains unsolved.

This is particularly worrying given that Gutiérrez is just one of 25 writers murdered in Mexico between 2004 and today, the majority of them print journalists. Four other print journalists have disappeared in the same period. It is our understanding that few if any of these crimes have been properly investigated or punished. Given this bleak panorama, we are understandably concerned that Gutiérrez’ murder should not meet with the same impunity.

The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN requests assurances from the Mexican authorities that a full and impartial investigation into the murder of Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila is being carried out, and details of any progress in the investigation to date. It also calls on the authorities to renew their efforts to throw light on all other unsolved crimes against writers, including the 24 murders and four disappearances of print journalists since 2004.

What you can do:

Letters of appeal calling for a full and impartial investigation into the murder of Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila, and a public update on progress into the investigation, may be sent to:

Lic. Arturo Chávez Chávez
Procurador General de la República
Av. Paseo de Reforma No. 211-213, Piso 16
Col. Cuauhtémoc, Defegacion Cuauhtémoc
México D.F. C.P. 06500
Fax: + 52 55 53 46 0908 (if a voice answers, ask «tono de fax, por favor»)
Salutation: Señor Procurador General/Dear Attorney General

Please also send copies of your appeals to the Mexican Embassy in your country.
Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Please send copies of any replies you may receive from the authorities to Tamsin Mitchell at the International PEN head office in London – address below.

RUSSIA: Natalia Estemirova, journalist and human rights defender
Courageous human rights defender and journalist, Natalia Estemirova was abducted and murdered on 15 July 2009. Estemirova, of Russian-Chechen descent, worked at the Grozny office of Memorial, Russia’s best known rights organisation. Tenacious in her investigations into torture, killings and other abuses in Chechnya, Estemirova was awarded for her courage by the Swedish and European parliaments.

Witnesses reported hearing Estemirova calling out that she was being kidnapped as she was forced into a van around 8.30 am as she left her home in Grozny. Her body was found some hours later in woodland in neighbouring Ingushetia. She had been shot in the head and chest.  Aged 50, Natalia Estemirova leaves behind her 15-year old daughter.

Killings, abductions, beatings, the meting out of punishment for breaches of religious customs and other abuses are routinely carried out by forces of the Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov, who has been praised by the Russian government for bringing stability to Chechnya, is unashamed of his record, publicly acknowledging that he uses extreme force to deal with the “bad guys”. In one notorious incident, he reportedly called Natalia Estemirova to his office to complain about her criticism of his forces. He is said to have told her: «Yes, my arms are up to the elbows in blood. And I am not ashamed of that. I will kill and kill bad people.» Estemirova was apparently not impressed and told him so. Even after her death, Kadyrov’s disdain for her was apparent. In an interview shortly after her killing, he told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that she “ never had any honor or sense of shame ….she would say stupid things”. For details of this interview Click here Memorial has implicated President Kadyrov in her murder, an accusation that has led Kadyrov to bring a defamation case against its head, Oleg Orlov.

Despite knowing the acute danger, Estemirova continued to research and advocate on abuses in Chechnya, most recently a spate of house burnings by government backed militia. She has been commended by local and foreign journalists for whom she was an important source of independent information in the conflict.

Natalia Estemirova was a close colleague of Anna Politkovskaya, who herself was assassinated in October 2006. In 2007 Estemirova was the first recipient of the annual Anna Politkovskaya Award given by the Reach All Women in War campaigning group. From 2001 until Politkovskaya’s murder, the two had worked together to expose abuses carried out by Russian armed forces in Chechnya and by Moscow-backed Chechen officials. Estemirova’s acceptance speech is a moving and harrowing description of their work together. She wrote:

No, [Politkovskaya] was not reckless. She was well aware of the gravity of the situation, particularly when she learned, in March 2002, that the interservice police detachment from Khanty-Mansijsk was coming back to Chechnya. Her fears were not unfounded–one day a car without a license plate arrived at the Murdalovs’ house. Masked gunmen came in and warned the family that they should take care, as the Khantys were around. This was not an idle warning. Some people did break into the house in the middle of the night soon after that, but then left saying that they had the wrong address.    For the full speech Click here

Shortly after Estemirova’s murder, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made an apparently encouraging statement ensuring that an inquiry has been ordered into her death. About the journalist he said: “[Estemirova’s] professional activities are something that any normal country needs. She was doing a very useful job. She spoke the truth.»

If human rights defenders such as Estemirova are truly valued as Medvedev suggests, much more needs to be done to apprehend and convict those who threaten and kill them. International PEN calls for full and impartial investigation and urges that those responsible be brought to justice.

What you can do:
Letters of appeal calling for a full and impartial investigation into Natalia Estemirova’s murder may be sent to:
Mr Dmitry Medvedev
President of the Russian Federation
Fax: +7 495 206 5173 / 206 6277

For further information please contact Sara Whyatt at the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN, Brownlow House, 50-51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER Tel: +44 (02) 20 7405 0338 Fax: +44 (0) 20 74050339 Email: