Benin is a stable constitutional presidential republic. In 2016 voters elected Patrice Talon to a five-year term as president in a multiparty election, replacing former president Thomas Boni Yayi, who served two consecutive five-year terms. In 2015 authorities held legislative elections in which former president Yayi’s supporting coalition, Cowry Force for an Emerging Benin, won 33 of 83 seats in the National Assembly, and the coalition allied with four independent candidates held 37 seats (a decrease from 41 in the prior legislature). International observers viewed both the 2016 presidential and 2015 legislative elections as generally free, fair, and transparent.
Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.
Human rights issues included incidents of torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; rape and violence against girls and women with inadequate government action for prosecution and accountability; and child labor.
Impunity was a problem. Although the government made an effort to control corruption and abuses, including by prosecuting and punishing public officials, sometimes officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights.
There were a large number of public and private media outlets, including two public and seven private television stations, three public and 50 private radio stations, and approximately 175 newspapers and periodicals. Many of these refrained from openly criticizing government policy.
There were reports the government inhibited freedom of the press.
Press and Media Freedom: The press and media were closely regulated, and the government considered itself to have an essential role in preventing the press from behaving in an “irresponsible” or “destabilizing” way. The High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC) is a quasigovernmental commission with members appointed by the president, private media, and the legislature. HAAC has a dual and perhaps inherently contradictory role of providing for press freedom and a mandate to protect the country against “inflammatory, irresponsible, or destabilizing” media reporting.
On May 24, HAAC suspended the newspaper La Nouvelle Tribune (LNT) for publishing “abusive, outrageous, detrimental, and intrusive” language deemed offensive regarding the president’s private life. On June 3, LNT Editor-in-Chief Vincent Foly stated that the newspaper was specifically targeted for publishing opinion pieces criticizing Talon administration policy, not for criticism of the president personally. The local press, civil society, and press-watchdog organizations objected to LNT’s suspension. Editor Foly filed a civil suit alleging wrongdoing against HAAC President Adam Boni Tessi with the Court of Cotonou. On October 12, the court announced that the case was not within its jurisdiction.
In May 2017 the Court of Cotonou ordered HAAC to authorize the reopening of Sikka TV affiliate Ideal Production, which it had suspended in 2016. The court ordered HAAC to pay 50 million CFA francs ($90,252) in damages. The court decision did not allow Sikka TV to resume direct broadcasting; its broadcasts, however, were available via satellite or internet.
Independent media were generally active and expressed a variety of views without restriction; however, the press tended to criticize the government less freely and frequently than in previous years. An independent nongovernmental media ethics commission censured some journalists for unethical conduct, such as reporting falsehoods or inaccuracies or releasing information that was embargoed by the government.
The government owned and operated the most influential media organizations. HAAC controlled broadcast range and infrastructure. Private television and radio coverage was poorer due to inadequate equipment and limited broadcast ranges awarded to them by HAAC.
Most citizens were illiterate, lived in rural areas, and generally received news via radio. The state-owned National Broadcasting Company broadcast in French and in 18 local languages.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: HAAC publicly warned media outlets against publishing information related to legal cases pending before criminal courts because this could be interpreted as an attempt to influence court rulings. It was possible to purchase and thus influence the content of press coverage. HAAC warned media against such practices. Some journalists practiced self-censorship because they were indebted to government officials who granted them service contracts. Other journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear the government would suspend their media outlets. HAAC held public hearings on alleged misconduct by media outlets during the year.
Libel/Slander Laws: By law journalists may not be prosecuted for libel and slander but may face prosecution and fines for incitement of violence and property destruction, compromising national security through the press, or a combination of the two.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet. The digital code, however, criminalizes use of social media for “incitements to hatred and violence.” On October 2, the Court of Cotonou convicted Sabi Sira Korogone of incitement of hatred and violence, incitement of rebellion, and “racially motivated slander” for statements posted on a social media sites. The court sentenced him to imprisonment for one year and a fine of three million CFA francs ($5,415). There were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 14.4 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association. Advance notification is required for demonstrations and other public gatherings. The government generally respected these rights. There were no instances of denial on political grounds.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right.
The government requires advance notification for use of public places for demonstrations. Authorities sometimes cited “public order” to prevent demonstrations by opposition groups, civil society organizations, and labor unions.
On May 22, the Constitutional Court ruled that the prefect of Littoral Modeste Toboula Department violated the constitution and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights related to freedom of assembly and public liberties. The court ruled he did so by issuing a decree on March 13 that restricted antigovernment demonstrations by requiring prior registration and approval by the Ministry of Interior. The court stated that requiring registration with the Ministry of Interior violated the enjoyment of fundamental liberties.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. There were, however, instances where the government violated freedom of association.
In March 2017 the Constitutional Court overturned a Council of Ministers decree banning the activities of university student groups as a violation of the right to freedom of association. The decree claimed that student groups were engaged in military training and intended to disrupt public security and peace. The court ruled that the government’s public order concerns did not justify the suspension of citizens’ constitutional rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.
Unlike in prior years, there were no illegal roadblocks. As part of its effort to reduce corruption, the government banned roadblocks throughout the country.
Foreign Travel: The government maintained documentary requirements for minors traveling abroad as part of its campaign against trafficking in persons. This was not always enforced, and trafficking of minors across borders continued.
The government’s policy toward the seasonal movement of livestock allowed migratory Fulani (Peul) herdsmen from other countries to enter and depart freely; the government did not enforce designated entry points.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.
Durable Solutions: The government assisted refugees and asylum seekers with obtaining documents from their countries of origin while granting their status as privileged residents. The government also facilitated naturalization of refugees as part of a local integration effort. The government involved civil society, media, and academia in the process. On March 31, the government National Commission of Assistance to Refugees assumed responsibility for refugee issues in the country following closure of the local UNHCR office. The commission cooperates with UNHCR through its regional office in Dakar, Senegal.
There were large communities of stateless individuals residing in eight villages along the border with Niger and Nigeria. These villages were returned to Benin following the resolution of land disputes among Benin, Niger, and Nigeria. The residents lacked the necessary identification documents to claim citizenship.
The government continued the Administrative Census for the Identification of the Population it started in November 2017 to collect personal data on all citizens for a national digital database. Each citizen registered is to be issued a biometric card having a unique and permanent identification number.