On July 27, after a one-on-one with Emmanuel Macron, the President of Benin Patrice Talon released 30 opponents. Many others are still behind bars.
In mid-June, the President of Benin, Patrice Talon, had decided to pardon opponents supposedly involved in a case of attempted coup. The 17 people released - temporarily - had been released following a meeting between the Head of State and his predecessor, Thomas Yayi Boni. During the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron, 30 new opposition detainees were released. What to wonder about the number of political prisoners languishing in Beninese jails...
In 2016, we were far from suspecting that the cotton king would become one of those authoritarian presidents he once claimed to hate. “I have been known as the king of cotton. Today, I want to become the one who has succeeded in transforming his country, politically, administratively, economically, ”explained Patrice Talon when he was elected, also promising at the time to only serve a single term.
Since then, Talon has changed course. Not only did he re-enlist for a second term. But he also launched, from the 2021 campaign, a series of arrests against his opponents. The government spokesman, Alain Orounla, then assured that “there is no hunting down opponents. It is a question of preventing and discouraging any act of violence or call for incivility and it is within this framework that the action of the Court for the Suppression of Economic Crimes and Terrorism (Criet) who undertook to listen to certain political personalities".
"No political detainees in Benin", really?
Once elected, Patrice Talon had resumed his hunt for the opponent. After the demonstrations in April 2021, he threatened: “Those who were the perpetrators or instigators of the violence will have to answer for it”. In the end, many Beninese opposition figures, if they are not in exile abroad, are today behind bars.
Asked about his authoritarianism during Emmanuel Macron's visit to Benin, Patrice Talon had a face-to-face meeting with the French head of state. He subsequently announced the release of thirty personalities, including former minister Ali Houdou, an activist close to former President Yayi Boni and the vice-president of the latter's party, Paulin Dossa.
But once again, this should not be seen as any presidential pardon: the Court for the Suppression of Economic Crimes and Terrorism has only "released and placed under judicial supervision" these thirty people who, if they can find their relatives, continued to be pursued by the Criet, an all-powerful instrument in the service of Patrice Talon.
In his speech last Wednesday, the same Patrice Talon assured that "there are no political detainees" in Benin. According to the Head of State, “no one is detained for their political opinion. But people are detained for committing crimes of misdemeanors in the political field. So it could be that in times to come, in my time or after me, acts of pardon or amnesty will be taken in favor of these people. It's possible ".
In its annual report 2021, Amnesty International denounced “arbitrary detentions” and “excessive use of force”, demanding “fair trials” for imprisoned opponents. The fifty or so people released over the past two months is good news, but it is only the hidden face of the iceberg: the trials of these released detainees are about to take place. As for Joël Aïvo and Reckya Madougou, they are still languishing in prison, after having received heavy sentences. As for the exiles, like Léhady Soglo the former mayor of Cotonou, they demand "more freedom, equality and justice". Finally, we do not know today how many opponents remain imprisoned, under the threat of a Criet who continues to reign terror.