The Digital Code continued to be used to restrict freedom of expression. The rights of detained political opponents were reportedly violated. At least five people were killed during clashes between demonstrators and defence and security forces in the context of the presidential elections. Members of transgender and LGBTI associations were assaulted and threatened.
Patrice Talon was re-elected in the first round of the 11 April presidential election with 86.36% of the vote. The Constitutional Court had rejected the candidacies of the main political opponents.
On 14 October, Benin was elected as a member of the UN Human Rights Council for the period 2022-2024.
Freedom of expression and arbitrary detention
Jean Kpoton, a pro-good-governance activist, was arrested on 13 January and sentenced on 9 February by the Cotonou Court of First Instance to 12 months’ imprisonment and a fine of 200,000 FCFA (€304); he had commented on a post alleging that the car used by President Talon during a cross-country tour in January was rented for 6 million FCFA (€9,146) per day. He was convicted under the 2018 Digital Code of “harassment by means of electronic communication”, an offence whose definition was considered “vague and too broad” by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in its October 2020 Opinion.
On 19 May, the Supreme Court upheld the May 2020 Appeal Court judgment sentencing journalist Ignace Sossou to six months in prison and six months suspended for “harassment by means of electronic communications” under the Digital Code after he quoted the Public Prosecutor in a Twitter post. Ignace Sossou’s lawyers had wanted the Supreme Court to consider their client’s detention as arbitrary, as the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had done in August 2020.
On 7 December, two journalists with the newspaper Le Soleil Bénin Info were sentenced to six months’ suspended imprisonment and a fine of more than 500,000 FCFA (€762) for “harassment by means of electronic communication”, following a complaint of libel by a customs inspector.
Right to a fair trial
At least 10 activists and political opponents were arrested and detained during demonstrations and violence between protesters and defence and security forces in several towns around the time of the presidential election.
Joël Aïvo – whose candidacy to run for the presidential election was rejected – was arrested and detained in Cotonou on 15 April. He was accused of “money laundering and endangering the security of the State”. Reckiatou Madougou, a member of the opposition party Les Démocrates and whose candidacy was also rejected, was arrested on 3 March in Porto-Novo and detained in Akpro-Missérété prison. She was charged with “financing terrorism” for her “intent to disrupt the next ballot by perpetrating large-scale acts of terror”. Lawyers for the two political opponents denounced violations of their rights to communicate with, and receive regular visits from, their families and to have confidential access to lawyers. On 6 and 11 December, the Court for the Repression of Economic Crimes and Terrorism sentenced Joël Aïvo and Reckiatou Madougou to 10 years’ and 20 years’ imprisonment respectively. The US Department of State declared that their trials “raise grave concerns about political interference in Benin’s criminal justice system”.
Excessive use of force
Demonstrations and riots erupted in several cities in the north and centre of the country several days before the 11 April presidential election. At least five people were killed by government forces using live ammunition in Bantè and Savè in Collines department, according to the National Human Rights Commission. The Ministry of Interior and Public Security stated on 14 April that 21 members of the defence and security forces received gunshot wounds when they cleared roadblocks.
In a 4 May resolution, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights condemned “the crackdown on demonstrations by the army”, and called for the opening of “an independent and impartial investigation.”
LGBTI people’s rights
On 30 April, three transgender women were forced to undress before being beaten and robbed by a group of men in a bar in Cotonou. The attack was filmed by the assailants who posted the video on social media. The three victims sought refuge with a local transgender association and continued to receive threats. LGBTI rights associations across Benin which supported the three women also received threats. On 30 June, the Cotonou Court of First Instance sentenced one of the attackers to 12 months’ imprisonment, including a six-month suspended sentence, for assault and battery.
Right to health
Following the start of the vaccination campaign against the Covid-19 pandemic on 29 March, as of 7 November, 347,270 people had received a first vaccine dose and 265,501 were fully vaccinated. This represented 3.64% of the population, according to official figures. On 1 September, the government made the vaccination compulsory, notably for medical, paramedical and pharmacist staff.
Right to truth, justice and reparation
On 21 January, the Constitutional Court validated the withdrawal of Benin’s declaration made under Article 34(6) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, thus preventing NGOs and individuals from having direct access to the Court.