Vancouver, Canada, December 23, 2019 — Authorities in Benin should immediately release and halt efforts to intimidate journalist Ignace Sossou and drop any charges against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On December 20, police arrested Sossou, a reporter with the privately owned Benin Web TV news website, at his home in Cotonou, Benin’s largest city, according to a report by his employer and a statement by Canal France Internationale, a French government-funded media development agency.
Police held Sossou at the Cotonou Office for the Suppression of Cybercrime and questioned him about posts he made on Facebook about Beninese Public Prosecutor Mario Mètonou, according to the statement and the Benin Web TV report. Later on December 20, he was presented before a Cotonou court of first instance, where he was accused of defamation and disinformation in relation to Mètonou, according to another Benin Web TV report and a statement from the Union of Media Professionals in Benin, a local press union, which was broadcast by the YouTube channel Icône TV.
Following his arrest, police searched Sossou’s home on December 22, Benin Web TV reported.
Wilfrid Léandre Houngbedji, director of communications for the Beninese government, confirmed to CPJ the details of Sossou’s arrest and said he must « assume the consequences of his acts. » He said he could not comment further on the legal proceedings because it was not a government case. CPJ could not determine whether the journalist has been formally charged.
“The decision by authorities in Benin to arrest and detain journalist Ignace Sossou is a blatant act of intimidation,” said Muthoki Mumo, CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, from Nairobi. “All legal proceedings against Sossou for his publishing should be dropped.”
In his Facebook posts, which are included in Benin Web TV’s report on Sossou’s arrest, the journalist quoted Mètonou’s comments at a December 17 media event, where the official described Benin’s digital code as “a weapon” that can be used against journalists, and discussed the government’s decision to shut down the internet during elections in April 2019.
In his defamation complaint, Mètonou alleged that his remarks had been taken out of context, according to a Benin Web TV report from December 23.
CPJ contacted Mètonou for comment via messaging app, but did not receive any reply.
Houngbedji said he had joined efforts to mediate with the Union of Media Professionals in Benin on December 20 and requested that Mètonou withdraw his complaint, according to media reports.
CPJ could not determine where Sossou was being held.
In August, a Cotonou court convicted Sossou to a suspended sentence of one month imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 West African francs ($850) for publishing “false information” about local business dealings, as CPJ reported at the time.
CPJ is an independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide.