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Several releases of detainees in recent weeks have given him some hope. But it was short-lived. The Beninese opponent, Joël Aïvo, a law professor whose candidacy for the presidential election of April 2021 had been rejected, was sentenced on the night of Monday 6 to Tuesday 7 December to ten years of criminal imprisonment and 45 million CFA francs fine (some 68,000 euros).
The Porto-Novo Court for the Repression of Economic Crimes and Terrorism (Criet) found him guilty, as well as two co-defendants (Boni Sarè Issiakou and Ibrahim Bachabi Moudjaïdou), of “Money laundering” and “Threat to state security”. Alain Gnonlonfoun, financier of Mr. Aïvo, was released for the benefit of the doubt.
“Conspiracy against state security”
Joël Aïvo, nicknamed ” the teacher “ by his fellow citizens, was arrested on April 15 in Godomey-Togoudo, on the northern outskirts of Cotonou, the economic capital of Benin, as he was returning from campus. It was the day after the announcement of the re-election of President Patrice Talon with more than 86% of the vote. Indicted, the former dean of the faculty of law and political science of the National University of Benin was then imprisoned in the Cotonou remand center.
The eminent constitutionalist was heard at the bar on the origin of his deposit of 50 million CFA francs (approximately 76,000 euros) deposited as part of his candidacy for the presidential election. According to the prosecution, it would have been partly financed by Arnaud Houédanou, accused of having instigated a coup. “The conspiracy against the security of the State is constituted as of its moral acceptance before it does not materialize, explained the prosecutor of Criet, Mario Mètonou. Joël Aïvo is the beneficiary of the plot financed by Arnaud Houédanou. “
This heavy sanction caused amazement in the defense camp. “The penalty is disproportionate, excessive, abusive. It is absurd … We can only understand it with a purely political reading, deplores Ludovic Hennebel, professor at the law faculty of Aix-en-Provence and lawyer within the international defense team of Joël Aïvo. The power in place sends a strong signal to any political opponent who dares to overshadow it for the next ten years. “
“This file is empty, the criminal proceedings have become an instrument of terror, explains the former chairman and Beninese lawyer Maître Robert Dossou. We are witnessing a general decline in public freedoms. All this reminds me of the political trials of yesteryear, when Benin was an unstable country and used to coups. We can appeal the Criet’s decision for the form, but I confess that our client is not keen on that… ”
Since the election of Patrice Talon in 2016, Benin has experienced an authoritarian drift denounced by many international human rights NGOs. In 2020, the country was removed from the list of “safe countries” by the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Ofpra).
“No matter how much I walk from judge to judge, keep me in prison, make me wear the mask of a criminal, try to delegitimize my fight for democracy, I will never be the criminal that we wanted to make and that I have never been in my life ”, let know at the bar Joël Aïvo.
In response to accusations of coup d’etat, he notably recalled that Guinean Colonel Mamady Doumbouya and Malian Colonel Assimi GoÏta had never been candidates before overthrowing power in their country. “Madam President, a coup leader never announces himself and his presidential intentions or ambitions are never known before his coup,” hammered Joël Aïvo, who remained impassive at the time of the verdict of the Court. I am suffering political revenge. »
“La Criet, this exceptional jurisdiction, has no legitimacy and is notoriously known as a purely political body allowing the government to muzzle its opponents,” believes Ludovic Hennebel, who followed the trial from a distance. Judges have no independence and are at the service of a despotic power. “
This same Court must judge Friday, December 10 Reckya Madougou, former minister arrested a few weeks before the presidential election. She is accused of having wanted to assassinate a personality to prevent the ballot and thus destabilize her country.
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In Benin, the opponent Joël Aïvo, sentenced to ten years in prison, denounces a “political revenge”