Benin 2019
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Benin 2019

National authorities undermined freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly in the context of the legislative elections. Security forces used excessive force against protesters with complete impunity. Some demonstrators or bystanders were killed, while many others were arbitrarily arrested and detained.

Background

The exclusion of opposition groups from the parliamentary elections held on 28 April fueled political tensions and protests across the country. Opposition groups were barred from running because the National Autonomous Electoral Commission (Commission électorale nationale autonome, CENA) invalidated their candidacies on 5 March for noncompliance with the 2018 electoral code. CENA's decision was upheld by the Constitutional Court on 13 March.

Freedoms of expression and assembly

Ban of demonstrations

Local authorities introduced a blanket ban on demonstrations during the pre-electoral period, including in the city of Parakou and in the departments of Collines and Zou.

Mass arrests of demonstrators

Scores of political activists, including political opposition members, were arrested in the context of the legislative elections. Among them, Joseph Aïmasse, a member of the Union’s Confederation of Workers in Benin (Confédération syndicale des travailleurs du Bénin) was arrested on 28 March and sentenced in April to two months in prison for having called for an unauthorized protest. Yibatou Sani Glélé, a member of the opposition Democratic Renewal Party (Parti du renouveau démocratique, PRD) and then a member of the National Assembly, was arrested along with another member of her party on 23 April at a rally with women at the Ouando market in Porto-Novo. These people were peacefully demonstrating against the exclusion of the PRD from the legislative elections. The two were charged with organizing and inciting an unauthorized protest. They were released the same evening and summoned to court.

On 28 May, a judge decided to maintain in pre-trial detention 60 people charged with violence and assault, participation in an armed gathering, and direct incitement to an armed crowd. They were detained without trial for several months and all released on 8 November after the adoption of an amnesty law.

On 22 June, former president Boni Yayi fled the country after his house has been surrounded by soldiers for over 50 days.

Internet shutdown

On polling day of the parliamentary elections, Internet access was shut down across the country.

Arrests of journalists

Journalists have been arrested and convicted of criminal offences for exercising their human rights including the right to freedom of expression and information.

Casimir Kpedjo, editor of the newspaper Nouvelle Économie, was arrested on 18 April following a complaint filed by the legal representative of the state because he had declared on Facebook that the country's debt was close to 725 million US dollars (about 400 billion CFA francs) and that this went against the 2019 finance law. He was charged with publishing "false information". Released on bail on 23 April, his trial was postponed many times and then scheduled for February 2020.

On June 19, the High Authority of Audiovisual and Communication (Haute autorité de l’audiovisuel et de la communication, HAAC) notified Emmanuelle Sodji, journalist for France 24, that she was banned from working in Benin. This decision followed reports she made on the security situation in the north. As of November, she couldn't get her accreditation. In December, radio station Soleil FM, owned by opposition political figure Sébastien Adjavon, has had to suspend broadcasting, the HAAC considering it couldn’t validate the application to renew its license.

Ignace Sossou, a journalist on the news website Bénin Web TV, was prosecuted for publishing false information in connection with two articles on tax evasion in Benin. He was convicted on 12 August for defamation and received a one month suspended prison sentence and a fine of 500,000 CFA francs (about 850 US dollars). His lawyers appealed the judgement. Ignace Sossou was sentenced to 18 months in prison and 300 euros fined for “harassment via electronic means” by a court in Benin on December 24. He posted tweets quoting Public Prosecutor during the ‘Verifox Conference’’, on 18 December, hosted by the French media development agency, CFI. 

Excessive use of force

Security forces used tear gas and batons to disperse peaceful protests organized by opposition parties. The military forces were also deployed on some of the demonstration sites.

On 26 February in Kilibo, in Ouesse commune, one person died in clashes between protesters and members of the security forces.

Between April and June, at least four protesters or bystanders were killed by firearms. Kandissounon Djayane, a 19-year-old apprentice welder, died on 2 May in the northern city of Kandi, a day after he was shot in the abdomen. The same day, 37-year-old Prudence Amoussou, a mother of seven, died after being shot during a demonstration. Her family was denied access to her body. Three months later, the authorities ordered the family to recover the body, kept at the morgue, and issued a declaration of death mentioning the cause of death as "due to illness".

Impunity

The human rights violations and abuses by the security forces against protesters before and after the legislative elections went unpunished. On 24 October, the judge assigned to investigate unlawful killings perpetrated during the demonstrations dismissed the case arguing that he did not have sufficient information on the alleged perpetrators. The families of victims were not notified of the decision.

On 31 October, the National Assembly passed an amnesty law for all criminal offences committed from February to June related to the legislative elections process. Promulgated on 7 November, this law effectively shields the members of the security forces suspected of being responsible for human rights violations and abuses, including the killing of protesters, from prosecution. 

Abuses by armed groups

Two French tourists were abducted on 1 May and their guard was killed while they were on safari near the border of northern Benin and southern Burkina Faso. The tourists and two other hostages were freed 10 days later by French forces in Burkina Faso.

International scrutiny

The UN Committee against Torture, in its concluding observations of June on the report of Benin, recommended that authorities amend the Criminal Code to bring the definition of the offence of torture fully in line with the UN Convention against Torture. The Committee recommended that the authorities conduct thorough and impartial investigations into all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment. The Committee also encouraged the authorities “to carry out impartial and thorough investigations into all allegations of excessive use of force, and to develop clear guidelines on the use of force and weapons, incorporating the principles of lawfulness, necessity and proportionality and the precautionary principle”.