Protests by students and motorcycle drivers break out in Benin
In April and May 2016, the freedom of peaceful assembly was generally respected in Benin. However commercial motorcycle riders in the city of Bohicon, commonly called ‘Zémidjans’, rebelled against an arbitrary arrest of one of their colleagues following targeted roadside checks by police. They protested and rioted by blocking the Abomey-Bohicon section of a main road on the 17th of May and burning tyres at the police station. In addition, the decision of the new government to completely halt wood trading in the locality of Saïlaga led to an altercation between its residents and members of the gendarmerie of Adjohoun. The altercation ended with the death of one man and the burning of a vehicle and a forest. Protests also broke out at the University of Abomey-Calavi when lecturers went on strike for non-payment of wages while students boycotted exams in protest of the University’s decision to remove a second session of exams. These University protests were largely peaceful.
In April and May 2016, Beninese citizens were mostly able to exercise their right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 23 of their constitution, including by criticising public figures and government processes. For instance, the Association of Beninese Women Lawyers and the National Social Watch Coordinator, Mr. Gustave Assah strongly criticised a constitutional review commission’s proposal for a single presidential term. Elsewhere, Mr. Agapit Napoleon Maforikan, Rapporteur of the National Authority against Corruption (ANLC) condemned the failure of parliamentarians to declare their assets in accordance with the law. In this climate of relatively free expression, challenges still remain. For example, the National Beninese Television (ORTB) station does not afford adequate coverage to opposition parties. Furthermore, a whistle blower in CONTROLEC – a company under the supervision of the National Beninese Electrical Company – was threatened for exposing embezzlement in the organisation. Finally, Mr. Ozias Sounouvou, a journalist at ORTB, who petitioned the former head of state to improve freedom of expression protections for journalists, remains in exile and stills fears for his life.