Benin: Police Disrupt Student Press Conference, Tear-Gas Them

Police in Benin have used tear gas to disperse a group of university students who were organising a general assembly and a press conference at a hotel.

On February 17, 2017, hundreds of students from the University of d’Abomey-Calavi gathered at the Hotel Le Refuge in the city of Abomey-Calavi for a general assembly and a press conference.

The meeting according to the president of the student group l’Union Nationale des Scolaires et Étudiants du Bénin (UNSEB) Prince Boris Ake, was to “make revelations” and “expose records about the university authorities.”

According to the MFWA correspondent in Benin, the students decided to hold the event at the hotel because of the ban in place on campus. In October 2016, the government banned all protest activities of student unions on the campuses of all four public universities in the country. The decision followed riots on the campus of the University of d’Abomey-Calavi by students protesting what they termed draconian administrative measures.

With the ban still in place, the students decided to hold their meeting at the hotel but were however shocked when some police officers arrived to try to dissuade them from proceeding with the event. When the persuasion failed, the police went away, only to return in full riot gear to disperse the students with tear gas. A number of students were reportedly injured in the ensuing melee.

The MFWA finds the Beninois authorities’ intolerance of public protests disturbing. The attack on students of the University of d’Abomey-Calavi is unwarranted and a blatant assault on freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association. The students respected the ban and decided to hold their meeting off campus, it is therefore inconceivable how police went to the hotel and tear-gassed them. We urge the authorities in Benin to investigate this incident and ensure the police who abused the rights of the students are held accountable. We also urge President Patrice Talon to call the police to order and allow the students to freely exercise their rights.