Expression

National media regulator suspends La Nouvelle Tribune

On 23rd May, Benin's national media regulator, the High Authority for Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC), suspended until further notice the La Nouvelle Tribune newspaper. The suspension was given on grounds of violating both the Code of Information and Communication and the Code of Ethics of the press of Benin. In its official notification, HAAC accused the newspaper of engaging "in a crusade of insults and outrageous reporting on the private life of the Head of State, using very demeaning words” in a series of articles since January 2018. 

One week after the suspension of the newspaper, on 1st June 2018, the revenue authority ordered the freezing of La Nouvelle Tribune's bank accounts for not complying with its tax obligations. According to the newspaper's director of publication, the action violated an agreement made earlier with revenue authorities, which lowered the due amount but also allowed the newspaper to pay in installments. 

The suspension sparked outrage from civil society organisations and media freedom activists. The Union des Professionnels des Media du Benin (UPMB; Union of Media Professionals of Benin) and the Conseil national du patronat de la presse audiovisuelle du Benin (CNPA-Benin; National Council of Employers of the Audiovisual Press of Benin) issued a joint statement on 24th May condemning HAAC’s decision and calling for an immediate lifting of the suspension. Activist Léonce Houngbadji initiated a week-long hunger strike from 1st June 2018 to urge the government to lift the suspension with immediate effect, and to advocate for the restoration of press freedoms and democracy in Benin. Social Watch BeninReporters without Borders and Media Foundation for West Africa equally condemned HAAC's decision. As reported previously on the Monitor, several other media outlets have been suspended in the past by HAAC. In November 2016, for example, HAAC suspended E-Télé, Sikka TV, Eden TV and Soleil FM without prior notice.

New Criminal Code

On 5th June 2018, after 17 years of delays, the National Assembly of Benin adopted a new Criminal Code which contains 1,007 individual provisions. Despite the new code's effective abolition of the death penalty, there are some concerns about new offenses which have been introduced, in particular offenses related to terrorism. The new offense of "crimes against the symbols and values of the State, the Republic, communities and religions" now punishes any infringement in speech, writing, talk, religious preaching, or in any artistic representation, scriptural or vocal, on the symbols, values and representations of the State, the nation, the Republic, the religions or cults, ethnic groups or any community.

According to Guy Mitokpè, secretary-general of the opposition party Restaurer l’espoir (Restore the Hope), the provision allows authorities to restrict freedom of expression and, in particular, voices which are critical of the government.