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REPUBLIC OF BENIN: Death row prisoners held in cruel limbo

18 Jan 2017
[International Secretariat]
Region: REPUBLIC OF BENIN
Topic: Abolition of the Death Penalty

Prisoners on death row in Benin are languishing in a cruel limbo after a court decision last year effectively abolished the death penalty, but failed to commute existing death sentences, said Amnesty International in a new report today.

The 14 remaining death row inmates have been informed by prison authorities that they will not be executed but are still being held in terrible conditions separately from other inmates at a prison, close to Port Novo, Benin’s capital.

“These men have already suffered almost 20 years on death row, unsure every day that they wake whether or not it will be their last,” said Oluwatosin Popoola, Amnesty International’s Adviser on thedeath penalty. “They face an unclear fate in appalling detention conditions, without adequate food and medical care.”

“The Benin authorities must urgently commute their sentences officially and ensure that the conditions they are being held in comply with minimum international standards.

Azonhito Yaovi, aged 54, has been on death row for 18 years after being sentenced to death in August 1998. He told Amnesty International:

“The fear of death is often worse than death itself. For years, I woke up wondering: will I be executed today, tomorrow, in a few months or in a few years?”

Prisoners on death row have very limited contact with the outside world. They are only allowed out of their cells five times a week when they have access to a small courtyard separate from the larger one used by other inmates. They are given just two small meals a day which they have to supplement where possible with food brought by their families. If one of the death row prisoners is disciplined for misconduct, the whole group is locked up in their cells for several days as a collective sanction.

The prisoners have suffered from life-threatening diseases, including malaria and tuberculosis, and that three death row prisoners had died due to inadequate medical care when held in Cotonou Prison, before they were transferred to Akrpo-Missérété Prison in 2010.

In addition to commuting the death sentences of all death row prisoners, Amnesty International is calling on the National Assembly of Benin to adopt legislation to remove death penalty provisions from its books.

“Benin is the 104th country in the world and the 19th country in sub-Saharan Africa to abolish the death penalty for all crimes and we applaud its efforts,” said Oluwatosin Popoola.

“However, it needs to formalize the abolition in its laws to make absolutely sure there’s no chance of sliding backwards on this achievement.”

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. The death penalty is a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

16 January 2017
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PRESS RELEASE

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