Beninese journalist’s conviction must be quashed
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on Benin’s supreme court to quash Bénin Web TV journalist Ignace Sossou’s May 2020 conviction on a charge of “harassment by means of electronic communications” when it examines the case today. RSF also urges Benin’s authorities to overhaul the country’s Digital Law, which poses a threat to its journalists.
Originally given an 18-month sentence in December 2019, Sossou spent six months in prison on this charge. He was released just over a year ago, in May 2020, when a Cotonou appeal court upheld his conviction but reduced the sentence to 12 months in prison (six of them suspended). At the request of Sossou’s lawyers, the supreme court is examining only the legality of his conviction. It is not looking at the substance of the case.
Sossou was prosecuted simply for tweeting statements that a prosecutor made at a workshop on disinformation that both Sossou and the prosecutor attended. Sossou did nothing wrong. A video produced by RSF showed that his tweets quoted the prosecutor accurately and could not in any way be construed as harassment.
When reached by RSF, Sossou said: “I hope my conviction is quashed, because there’s no connection between what I did and the charge on which I was tried and convicted.” He added that he believed in the independence of the judges, but would use other legal resources if they didn’t rule in his favour.
“It is inconceivable that the supreme court could confirm this journalist’s conviction because it would send a disastrous message for press freedom in Benin,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “This journalist did nothing wrong and should never have been in prison. We ask the court to quash the conviction and sentence, and we call for the Digital Law to be brought into line with international law, so that it can no longer be used to arbitrarily arrest, convict and jail a journalist.”
RSF has worked hard on this investigative reporter’s case. At RSF’s initiative, more than 120 media outlets and journalists in West Africa published an unprecedented joint op-ed on 13 March 2020 calling for his release. And, as a result of being referred the case by RSF, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled during its 88th session in August 2020 that Sossou did not get a fair trial, and that his conviction had no legal basis and was the result of his use of the freedom of expression.
Benin’s Digital Law has been used to arbitrarily detain two other journalists. One was Casimir Kpédjo, the editor of the newspaper Nouvelle Economie, who spent seven days in police custody in April 2019 for publishing “false information” about a Eurobond issue by Benin.
The other was Aristide Hounkpèvi, who suffered the same fate after being detained in January 2020 for a tweet wondering whether Benin’s foreign minister was going to be appointed ambassador to Paris.
Benin has fallen 36 places in RSF's World Press Freedom Index since 2016 and is now ranked 114th out of 180 countries.