Headlined “Digital Law, Trojan horse for press freedom in Benin?” and co-signed by three newspapers, Nord Sud Quotidien, L’Inter and Ecofin, the op-ed says that, although initially portrayed as an “appropriate and reliable tool” for combatting cyber-crime, the Digital Law has been used in practice as an instrument to “threaten the exercise of journalism in Benin.”
Adopted in 2018, it allows the authorities to prosecute journalists as ordinary citizens as soon as what they say or write appears online.
“Our information law protects journalists by decriminalising press offences but the Digital Law serves them up as offerings to all those who resent them,” the op-ed quotes Bénin Web TV production director Ignace Sossou as saying.
Sossou spent six months in prison last year on a charge of “harassment by means of electronic communication” for tweeting the prosecutor-general’s comments about the danger that the Digital Law poses to journalists. As RSF pointed out at the time, this was the first time that a journalist was jailed in West Africa for accurately reporting statements of a public interest nature.
“This op-ed published on World Press Freedom Day, 3 May, and at the start of Patrice Talon’s second term as president serves as a reminder of the Digital Law’s extremely threatening nature for journalism in Benin,” said Assane Diagne, the director of RSF’s West Africa office.“Our organisation calls on Benin to reform this law by offering journalists working online the same guarantees as they enjoy in the traditional media. This law should not be used to arbitrarily detain journalists, a practice that has contributed significantly to Benin’s free fall in the World Press Freedom Index in recent years.”
Although most press offences have been decriminalised, the Digital Law has been used to arbitrarily detain two other journalists, in addition to Sossou. 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, another media publisher, 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.