Nine Days After, FIJ Editor Arrested in Benin Regains Freedom

Damilola Ayeni, the editor of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ), has been released from detention in Benin Republic, the medium reported.

Ayeni, who was detained in Benin for nine days on trumped-up terrorism charges, regained his freedom on Friday after combined efforts of sustained media pressure, relentless work by the Nigerian Embassy in Benin, and legal representation and advocacy efforts facilitated by the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

As of the time of this publication, Ayeni was being handed over to Nigerian authorities, although he will remain in Benin Republic for a little longer.

‘Fisayo Soyombo, the founder and editor-in-chief of FIJ, personally confirmed Ayeni’s release and wellbeing in a phone conversation — the first in nine days.

Ayeni was on a trip to Benin for the second leg of fieldwork on a Nigeria-Benin environmental journalism report when the Beninese authorities arrested him in Parakou, northern Benin, on August 31.

The Beninese police kept Ayeni incommunicado throughout his detention, claiming he was a jihadist.

Ayeni was initially detained at the Commisseriat Central, Parakou Police Station, in Parakou, Republic of Benin, before he was transferred to a holding facility in Cotonou on Tuesday. The police kept him in detention but reached out to FIJ to demand 800,000 CFA (approximately N1.2 million) for his freedom.

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Numerous individuals, media houses and non-governmental organisations at home and abroad pushed for Ayeni’s immediate release after news of his arrest became public on the fourth day.

Reacting to this, the Norbert Zongo Unit for Investigative Journalism in West Africa (CENOZO), said it’s relieved to that Ayeni had been released following his hearing by the Prosecutor of the Court for the Repression of Economic Offences and Terrorism (CRIET).

“CENOZO welcomes this decision by Benin’s judicial authorities, which is a major step in favour of press freedom,” it said in a statement.

“The CENOZO also calls on all journalists working in West Africa to exercise caution and respect the restrictions imposed by the authorities in the fight against terrorism.”

The organization said it “remains available to support the collaborative work of investigative journalists across the West African sub-region.”


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