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Benin opposition leader Madougou sentenced to 20 years in prison

By David Coffey with RFI
Benin RFI Hausa
DEC 11, 2021 LISTEN
RFI Hausa

Benin opposition leader Reckya Madougou has been sentenced to 20 years in jail for terrorism by a special court in the capital Porto-Novo, following a brief trial that her lawyers condemned as a "political attack".

After more than 20 hours of hearings, Madougou was found guilty of "complicity in terrorist acts" by the Economic Crime and Terrorism Court, which on Tuesday sentenced another key opposition figure to 10 years.

Critics say the court, set up in 2016, has been used by President Patrice Talon's regime to crack down on the opposition and pushed Benin into authoritarianism.

Speaking before her prison sentence was announced, Madougou said: "This court has deliberately decided to penalise an innocent person." 

"I have never been and I will never be a terrorist," the 47-year-old former justice minister added. 

Madougou was one of several opposition leaders banned from running in an election in April in which Talon won a second term with 86 percent of the vote.

She was arrested in the economic capital Cotonou in March -- just weeks before the election -- accused of financing an operation to assassinate political figures to prevent the vote, in an alleged bid to "destabilise" the country.

"Tried at 6am, without witnesses, without documents, without evidence, Recky Madougou was sentenced to 20 years in prison by three accomplices of those in power," her France-based lawyer Antoine Vey tweeted after the sentencing.

 "Her crime: to have embodied a democratic alternative to the regime of Patrice Talon."

Political attack

Vey had told the trial on Friday that "this procedure is nothing but a political attack".

"Even before her arrest, everything was orchestrated," Vey said a day after arriving from Paris. 

He asked for the trial to be cancelled, before leaving the court and never returning -- Madougou's Benin-based lawyers stayed for the remainder.

On the stand at the trial, Madougou said that she had "no illusions" about its outcome.

"I offer myself to the democracy of my country, if my sacrifice can give your court back its independence," she said.

Judge flees the country over political pressure 

Less than a week before the April election, a judge from the special court fled Benin denouncing political pressure to make rulings, in particular the case of Madougou's arrest.

Government officials dismiss claims of political interference and say Benin's judiciary is independent.  

Benin has long been praised for its thriving multi-party democracy in a troubled region.

But critics say the state's democracy has been steadily eroded under Talon, a 63-year-old cotton magnate first elected in 2016.

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