Three possible prisoners of conscience and five political prisoners, all arrested in 1992, continued to be held without trial throughout the year. There were reports that detainees had been ill-treated. A campaign against a local tax, organized by the Parti communiste du Bénin (PCB), Communist Party of Benin, continued until January when the authorit-ies agreed to abolish the tax. Several PCB members were arrested during the campaign of civil disobedience. In January an apparently peaceful PCB meeting held near Aguégué, northeast of Cotonou, was broken up by security forces. In the violence which ensued, four PCB members were seriously injured and gendarmes were attacked. The four PCB members were among nine people arrested and charged with assaulting members of the security forces. There was no official investigation to establish why the security forces used violence to break up the meeting. The nine were held for six weeks before being provisionally released and later convicted and fined. Three possible prisoners of conscience continued to be held in pre-trial detention throughout the year. All members of a farmers' union, Migbe Aya (We Reject Poverty), they had been arrested in December 1992 and were apparently awaiting trial on murder charges despite the fact that none had been present at the scene of the murder. They appeared to have been arrested solely because they had advised the victim of an attempted armed robbery in which gendarmes were implicated to lodge a complaint (see Amnesty International Report 1994). The three remained in the prison of Athiémé, in southern Benin, where conditions are particularly harsh. No investigation was held into reports that they had initially been held in chains. They had no access to a lawyer; the authorities claimed they had refused a lawyer but other sources indicated that the detainees had been coerced into not appointing a lawyer. Prisoner of conscience Edgar Kaho, a journalist, was released in March, after serving 10 months of his one-year prison sentence (see Amnesty International Report 1994). Five people were still awaiting trial throughout the year in the prison of Kandi, in the north of the country. They had been arrested in March 1992 after participating in a demonstration against police corruption during which a police officer was injured (see Amnesty International Report 1993). Eleven army and police officers detained for more than two years in connection with an attempted coup in May 1992 (see Amnesty International Report 1994) were brought to trial in September. Three were acquitted and eight received sentences of between three and 10 years' imprisonment with hard labour. Among them was Gomina Seydou Fousseini, a security official under former President Kérékou's government, who received a 10-year prison sentence. Sixteen others, including Captain Pascal Tawès, deputy commander of the Presidential Guard under President Kérékou, were sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment with hard labour. Three PCB members from So-Ava, a town near Cotonou, who had reportedly been tortured in custody in 1993, were convicted. The men, all farmers, had been arrested during a PCB meeting in September 1993. During pre-trial detention they were reportedly severely beaten, their hands and feet were chained and their relatives beaten when they arrived to bring food. Despite a request from their lawyer, there was no investigation into these allegations of torture, nor did the court give any consideration to their complaints. In January they were each sentenced to a term of imprisonment for refusing to pay the local tax. Amnesty International expressed concern to the government of President Nicéphore Soglo about the continuing detention without trial of the three members of Migbe Aya. In January government officials gave assurances that the three were to be promptly tried, but in September the Minister of Justice told a visiting Amnesty International representative that the judicial inquiry into the case had not yet been completed. Amnesty International was also concerned at reports that detainees were subjected to beatings or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and that the courts failed to investigate reports of torture when these were brought to their attention. It urged the authorities to initiate independent inquiries into all allegations of torture.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.