Gold washer Jean Bena was sentenced by a court in Cayenne on 16
December to a suspended four-month prison sentence for assaulting
journalist Frédéric Farine on 14 May. He was also fined 3,000 euros and ordered to pay his victim 1,500 euros compensation and 800 euros towards the legal costs. The court said the severity of the sentence reflected the "seriousness
of the case", its background and the character of the accused. Bena has ten days in which to lodge an appeal.
15.05.2003 - Journalist beaten up by gold mining boss
Reporters Without Borders said today it was shocked at the beating up of a journalist by a local gold mining boss and called for the attacker to be severely punished.
Journalist Frédéric Farine, of the TV station RFO Guyane, was attacked on 14 May by Jean Bena, who runs gold prospecting operations in the French overseas province, at the start of a murder trial in Cayenne of one of Bena’s former workers.
He insulted, slapped and punched the journalist about a dozen times, accusing him of mentioning his name in an article. Two police motorcyclists present did not intervene and plainclothes police, who appeared to be friends of Bena, then overpowered him without arresting him.
"This attack is the culmination of a long series of threats to the journalist," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to the prefect (governor) of French Guiana, Ange Mancini. "Gold mining has become a risky business to report on for those who want to expose the practices in the industry, which include torture. This is a scandalous and unacceptable thing to be happening on French soil. The attacked must be severely punished."
Ménard asked the prefect to keep him informed of progress in the enquiry opened after Farine filed a formal complaint against "deliberate attacks and death threats." He also asked him to explain why the police did not arrest Bena and to meet with the journalist to work out how he might be protected in future. After the attack, police told Farine that Bena was still in the area and he was not able to leave until his editor came to pick him up from the police station.
Farine, along with the local correspondent of the French daily Le Monde, Laurent Marot, has often reported on the violent world of alluvial gold mining in French Guiana.
The problems of both journalists featured in this year’s Reporters Without Borders annual report, which said:
Frédéric Farine, a correspondent for the French daily La Croix and Radio France Internationale (RFI) investigating conditions in the alluvial gold mining industry, was accused of "paedophilia" and "corrupting youth" by two members of the Guianese Federation of Mining Organisations (FEDOMG) at a press conference in Cayenne on 1 July 2002.
In an article three days earlier headed "Forced labour in the Maroni region," he had quoted Brazilian immigrant miners accusing one of the gold bosses, Jean Bena, of enslaving them after confiscating their passports. On 18 June, he had reported for Radio Caraibes International (RCI), RFI and www.rfi.fr on the trial of four gold-washers from the town of Maripasoula who were jailed for five years for torturing a Brazilian gold-washer.
In July 2001, he had written a report with Laurent Marot, of the French daily Le Monde, exposing the existence of virtual militias run by the gold bosses who they said had installed a "reign of terror" in the region. The two reporters were subsequently threatened several times and an associate of Bena warned Marot that they were "first on the list."
Marot said that in February 2002, after a programme he had done on gold-washing was broadcast by Radio Guyane, another gold boss, Joseph "Popo" Machine, had called and told him he should turn his attention to other matters. "We’re sick of you. Be very careful how you go," he warned. A month later he called to say: "We’re fed up with the reports by you and Farine. We’re going to get you!"