The Attack Mounted Against Jehovah’s Witnesses
THE attack against Jehovah’s Witnesses gradually increased in intensity beginning in 1973. In that year the authorities refused them permission to hold some scheduled “circuit assemblies,” where a number of Christian congregations meet together for Bible instruction. Then in December 1973 the “Divine Victory” International Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Cotonou was canceled at the last moment. Early the following year authorities again permitted the holding of circuit assemblies, but that was the last time such permission was granted.
During this time there was no interference with the meetings in Kingdom Halls or in private homes. But late in 1974 rumors circulated that restrictions would be placed on the public preaching work, and early in 1975 this took place in the Mono area. Then in February the house-to-house witnessing was stopped by local authorities in the town of Parakou. But in other areas the Witnesses enjoyed freedom to preach and to meet together for worship.
Following the political celebrations on November 30, 1975, when the country’s name was changed and a new flag was announced, the attack against Jehovah’s Witnesses was stepped up. Political slogans became more popular, and when Witnesses refused to shout them they were often questioned by local committees of the revolution.
In December 1975 a circuit overseer was arrested while engaging in the preaching work. An off-duty policeman shouted the political slogan to him, “Ready for the Revolution!” He was expected to reply, “And the fight continues.” When he failed to reply after several attempts, he was taken to the police station, where he was held.
There further attempts were made to force him to say the political slogan and share in political singing. He was made to crawl around on his knees and elbows for several hours. Finally, at the end of the day, when some Witnesses talked with the police, he was released.
Also in December the house-to-house witnessing was prohibited in a number of other places, and for the first time authorities forbade meetings in some Kingdom Halls, even confiscating the Halls. At the Dowa Kingdom Hall near Porto Novo, K. E. G. was doing some work out front. There he noticed a man putting in stakes and taking measurements. When he asked him what he was doing, he said: “We are taking over your Kingdom Hall. The local committee for the revolution has decided to stop your meetings, and from now on the Hall will be used for political meetings.” And that is what occurred, without any compensation being provided for the Hall.
From January to March 1976 more and more local authorities prohibited the meetings and preaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Kingdom Halls were closed, and some became meeting places of local political authorities. The government newspaper (the only one in Benin), as well as the radio, which is called the “Voice of the Revolution,” began to make strong announcements against religion in general and against the Witnesses in particular.
Pressures at Places of Work
At most places of work authorities began to set aside time each week for flag ceremonies, the singing of patriotic songs, and the shouting of political slogans. In addition to this, “ideology courses,” including also: premilitary training, were arranged.
In one district, during the first weekend of April employees from several places of work were scheduled to come together for one of these ideology courses. Some 300 or more persons worked at these places. Everyone was told to attend, including four Witness employees. The Witness men, S. A., C. A. and A. A., decided it would be best not to attend. The woman, J. T., attended but refused to participate in parts of the course that violated her Christian conscience.
After Witnesses S. A. and C. A. arrived at their place of work the following Monday morning, they were arrested. While still in their work clothes, they were forced to run in front of a vehicle to the police school. Shortly after arriving, their Christian sister J. T. was brought in. Efforts were then made to force them to shout political slogans. They were made to crawl around on their knees and elbows until they were exhausted. And they were given an ‘ideology course’ in an attempt to convince them to shout the slogans.
Witness A. A. was not due to report to work until Monday afternoon. When he came in, he also was arrested and forced to run before a vehicle to the police school. There he was beaten and made to crawl around on the ground and do other forced “sports.” One of the Witnesses later said that he was determined not to give in even if it meant his being faithful to death. He said that the hope of the resurrection and of life in God’s new system was faith-strengthening for him at that time.
For four days these Witnesses were held and subjected to this type of treatment. Then they were released, being told that they could go back to work. However, Witness A. A. was immediately put under more pressure at his place of employment. His superiors insisted that he take the lead in flag ceremonies and in shouting political slogans. Finally, he was dismissed from his job for refusing to comply. Later, Witnesses S. A. and C. A. were also dismissed for similar reasons, and it is reported that J. T. was arrested again and then released.
Also early in April, all the male Witnesses in the Gouka Congregation in northern Benin were arrested and held for seventy-two hours. They were warned to cease their public preaching and, at the same time, efforts were made to force them to say political slogans. After these efforts failed, the Witnesses were released. However, they were told that if meetings were to continue to be held in the Kingdom Hall, these must include the singing of political songs and the saying of political slogans. But the Witnesses could not agree to become involved in such political activity, and so were forced to cease using their Kingdom Hall.
In a radio speech on April 16 the Minister of Interior, Martin Dohou Azonhiho, threatened: “If those people don’t change their method of doing things, they will see us after them.” He went on to say that he would expel representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses from the country by the end of April.
A few days later a delegation of four Witnesses went to the district chief of Cotonou II to answer the accusations being made. However, when these Witnesses would not say the political slogans, they were arrested and taken to the police school. There more efforts were made to get them to respond to the slogan, “Ready for the Revolution!” The expected response is, “And the fight continues.”
Witness D. S. explained that he was ready to work, he was ready to share in the agriculture production that the authorities talk about. But he was not ready for fighting; he was not ready for war. So he took a firm stand and refused to reply to such slogans. The four were detained ten days before being released.
In the meantime an hours-long meeting was held in Cotonou during the last week of April to draw up measures to be taken against Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Benin newspaper Ehuzu of April 30, 1976, carried the headline: THE SECT OF “JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES” BANNED IN THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF BENIN.
The article said: “As of Tuesday, April 27, 1976, the sect of Jehovah’s Witnesses is banned throughout the entire territory of the People’s Republic of Benin. . . .
“—all meetings of the followers or of persons having belonged to the sect of Jehovah’s Witnesses are banned;
“—home visits by the preachers of the sect Jehovah’s Witnesses are banned;
“—All real estate used in the past by the representatives and followers of the said sect will be inventoried by the local authorities and will be used for purposes of public benefit.”
Furthermore, the paper said: “The representatives of the said sect, and more precisely the expatriates of whichever nationality they may be, have only a few hours to leave the country after the publication of the present measures.”
No time was wasted in carrying out this decision to expel the missionaries of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Carlos Prosser explains: “On April 27th at about 10 a.m., the police came and questioned me as the branch manager. They took me down to the Cotonou Akpakpa police station and from there to the State Police where I was further questioned. After being taken back again to the Cotonou Akpakpa police station, I was permitted to return home, arriving there at about 11:30 a.m. . . . It was about 8 p.m. when we were told we were expelled as of that day, April 27th . . .
“At about 8:30 [in the morning] April 28th the police came again and told us to pack up our suitcases and load them into our van to go to the State Police. . . . We were given 30 minutes to get ready and go . . . I drove the van belonging to the Watch Tower Society under guard by a soldier while the rest of the missionaries were driven off in another car by the police. . . .
“Two of the missionaries were prepared to go to Togo and the rest to Nigeria. Those of us going to Nigeria were escorted to the border by the police car, and the two for Togo were left behind.” So, in time, ten of Jehovah’s Witnesses were expelled from the country, and the properties of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society were confiscated by the authorities.
Persecution Under the Ban
On May 10 Witnesses of the Cana Congregation, about seventy-five miles north of Cotonou, received notice to appear before the local revolutionary committee the following day. On arriving, they were met by the local mayor, who went to get a flag for them to salute. When they refused, five persons began beating the Witnesses; they even beat an eight-year-old boy!
The next day the Witnesses were taken to the nearest police station, which is in Bohicon, where they were beaten for hours without letup. Efforts were made to force the Witnesses to say, “Honor, glory and victory to the people.” But they answered, “Honor, glory and victory to Jehovah.” Also, they were asked, “On whom do we rely for our strength?” They were expected to reply: “On ourselves,” but they said: “On Jehovah.” So the police continued to beat them to try to force them to give in.
The Witnesses, including the women and the eight-year-old boy, were held the remainder of that day and all night. The next morning efforts were again made to force them to say the slogans. When they refused, they were beaten some more. Finally, at about noon, the police chief came and, seeing that the Witnesses had been beaten badly, ordered the policemen to stop as he wanted to question the Witnesses.
He asked: “Why is it you don’t say the slogans? What is the reason?” They replied that it is because they do not take part in the political activities of any nation, in imitation of the example set by Jesus Christ. “We are neutral, and our Christian conscience doesn’t permit us to repeat political slogans.” But the police chief said: “Ah, there must be more to it than that. There must be another reason.” He was told, however, that there was not.
Finally, the police chief said they would be set free, but that they could not hold meetings in their Kingdom Hall or carry on their preaching work. He said, though, that it would be alright if they met together in their homes in small groups. The Witnesses asked: “Can you give us that in writing, saying that we will be able to have our meetings?” The police chief answered: “No, I can’t give it to you in writing.”
In the village of Awhangba Sekou, Witness G. A. was approached by local revolutionary people who shouted political slogans to him. When he did not reply to them, four persons jumped him and beat him till he was unconscious. He fell and they began to run away, apparently believing he was dead.
A few minutes later, however, he began to get up, and one of the persons who had beaten him saw this from a distance. But even before he could return, there were others armed with sticks and clubs who arrived on the scene. The Witness was then beaten by this second group, and he fell again, covered with blood. The members of this second group became fearful, thinking that they had killed him. So they threw their clubs away and fled. After the crowd had left, Witness G. A. got up with difficulty and returned to his house.
In the village of Attogon, in the northwestern section of the country, the Witnesses noted that the local committee members of the revolution were preparing to arrest them. So during the night they fled far into the “bush.” The men were able to prepare a place for themselves and their families to sleep by using sheets of tin roofing. About forty yards away they prepared another place for meetings. They used the ground as their benches and pieces of wood were bundled together for a table that the conductor of the meetings could use. These Witnesses have since been scattered, some fleeing the country.
In Aissessa the committee of the revolution closed a Kingdom Hall, but the local mayor came back a few days later with the key and handed it to the presiding overseer, saying: “Take the key and next Saturday get the hall ready for a special meeting of all your members.” The overseer refused to take the key unless details about the meeting were provided. The mayor would not say, but it seemed apparent that the authorities wanted to make trouble for the Witnesses, perhaps planning to arrest them all. So the Witnesses fled across the border into Nigeria.
Early in May, D. S., a special pioneer (a full-time preacher of Jehovah’s Witnesses), was traveling through Cotonou when someone recognized him as a Witness. When he refused to answer the political slogans shouted to him, he was taken to the police station. He was badly beaten over a period of several weeks, and then was released. He had to receive medical treatment as a result of his beatings.
On May 3 two other special pioneers working in Kandi, about 400 miles north of Cotonou, received a summons to appear at the police station that same day. On their arrival, the police chief, Mr. Dovonou, asked for their identity cards. When he saw their tax receipts for the past years attached to their cards, he said: “I see that you are obedient to the authorities, and that you have paid your tax.”
The police chief wanted the pioneers to give the names of other Witnesses in the area. However, they refused to do so. They were then ordered to take off their shirts and trousers, and the police chief said: “Now I think you may soon want to give us the names and cooperate with us.”
Policemen were then called in who, taking turns, beat the pioneers with a bludgeon to try to force them to reveal the names of their Christian brothers and sisters. Despite this cruel treatment, the Witnesses would not endanger the safety of their friends by giving the police their names or addresses.
Eventually one of the special pioneers, I. K. was taken under custody to Cotonou. While in prison there he realized that he was not the only Witness being held. There were a number of others who refused to sing patriotic songs and participate in flag ceremonies, and who were beaten for not doing so.
When one young man was asked: “Why are you not singing or taking part in this flag ceremony?” he answered: “My Christian conscience does not permit it, and the Bible does not approve of such worship.” At that the policeman gave him a blow to the head that caused blood to come from his nose.
Due to help from his father and some friendly policemen, I. K. was released from prison May 19. A few days later he was able to cross over to Nigeria. There he received hospital treatment and spent several weeks recuperating from the beatings that he received.
Summary of the Situation
Due to nationalistic ceremonies held in school few Witness children have been able to attend since the ban. As late as May 20, however, one 15-year-old youth was still attending classes. But then one of his fellow students told the teacher, “How can I sing when A. doesn’t sing?” After hearing this at least twice, the teacher was obligated to insist that the Witness sing. He refused, and the incident became known in the area. Learning that strict measures were going to be taken, the youth crossed over into Nigeria.
It is similar with employment; Witnesses are forced to leave their places of work because they will not share in the political ceremonies. Threatened with arrest and imprisonment, some 600 of them have reportedly crossed over into Nigeria and others into Togo. The police have been looking for many Witnesses, especially well-known Christian elders, even announcing their names several times on the radio.
To give an idea how the Witnesses are watched: In Cotonou one of the Christian elders still remaining there was trying to strengthen his brothers by inviting a few of them to his home for a meal, and then taking the opportunity to give them some encouragement. He had just received one Witness when a local member for ‘the defense of the revolution’ called to see if he was having a meeting. The elder explained that he was just having some friends over for a meal, and asked if it was unlawful to invite friends to your home even for that purpose.
As already noted, all Kingdom Halls in the country have been closed and the preaching work is prohibited everywhere. In many places it is even very difficult for Witnesses to meet in small groups, including family groups, since they are so closely watched. Some Witnesses get up in the middle of the night to study their Bibles together.
On the other hand, in some parts of the country the Witnesses can meet more freely. They are able regularly to have meetings by changing the time and place from one meeting to the next. In one village the mayor said that even if a summons is sent to have the Witnesses arrested, he will do everything he can to protect them.
This village mayor is very alarmed to see that a number of Witnesses have left the country due to threatened arrest. He has sounded a warning in his village that if any of Jehovah’s Witnesses are molested in any way, the ones troubling them will be arrested. So, since that time, no one has bothered the Witnesses there. This mayor told the district chief that the Witnesses are his best people, that they pay their taxes on time and they share in communal work.
Thus in some parts of the Republic of Benin it is more difficult for Jehovah’s Witnesses than in other parts, and this usually depends on local authorities. But the official stand against Jehovah’s Witnesses is to stop all their activity and to try to make everyone conform to the ideologies of the country.
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GULF OF GUINEA