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Lapiro de Mbanga

Cameroonian musician, pro-democracy activist, and former political prisoner

Lapiro de Mbanga was a Cameroonian musician and pro-democracy activist renowned for popular dance melodies and satirical lyrics highly critical of the dictatorship of Paul Biya. His 2008 song, “Constipated Constitution,” which criticized Biya’s use of a constitutional amendment to scrap presidential term limits to extend his rule, became a pro-democracy anthem. The song led to his arrest, a three-year prison sentence, and a fine of US$600,000. He was incarcerated in Cameroon’s New Bell Prison, notorious for its harsh and inhumane conditions, such as lack of food and inadequate medical assistance for prisoners. As a result of the atrocious conditions, Lapiro contracted typhoid fever and was on the brink of death. The prison authorities refused to send him to the hospital; his wife smuggled in medication to save his life. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a legal opinion declaring Lapiro’s arrest and imprisonment arbitrary and in violation of international law. He was released in 2011, but the target of ongoing threats and harassment. Lapiro was granted asylum in the United States in 2012. He died in 2014.

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