The Center for Collaborative Investigative Journalism (CCIJ) vehemently condemns the arrest and detention of Damilola Ayeni, Editor of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ), in the Republic of Benin. We call for his immediate release and for respect of his rights as a journalist.
Mr. Ayeni, who was visiting Benin to participate in the second session of a Nigeria-Benin environmental journalism report, was arrested by Benin authorities under unclear circumstances. Information relayed by the FIJ details how a distress message from Mr. Ayeni was received, but quickly deleted from their communication channels.
The message, stating simply, “I have just been arrested,” was followed by a telephone conversation in which Mr. Ayeni communicated that his detention was due to alleged ‘security concerns’ in the area. No further messages were received.
The FIJ stated that the Beninese police have a history of employing ‘release and re-arrest’ tactics, designed to keep detainees in custody without alerting their associates. This raises serious concerns about the transparency and legality of Mr. Ayeni’s detention.
The FIJ was unable to establish further contact with Mr. Ayeni until Tuesday morning, when a man identifying himself as the ‘Commissioner of the Central Police Station of Parakou in Benin’ confirmed that Mr. Ayeni was being held at the Parakou Police Station. Via a WhatsApp communication, this individual suggested that Mr. Ayeni was arrested for alleged jihadist activities and might face 10 to 20 years in prison.
The CCIJ stands in solidarity with the FIJ in its efforts to establish physical contact with Mr. Ayeni. We reiterate our call for his immediate release and for him to be accorded all rights due to him as a journalist.
CCIJ and its members deplore the unjust arrest and detention inflicted on one of its members, which, in addition to representing a serious assault on the freedom of movement, constitutes a significant hardship to his family.
We call upon international bodies and advocates of press freedom to join us in this demand and to condemn the assault on press freedom represented by Mr. Ayeni’s arrest.
We also call on authorities in The Republic of Benin to respect the freedoms of expression and of the press guaranteed by the country’s constitution and laws, as well as the international agreements to which the country has willingly subscribed.