The people of Benin have their civic freedoms guaranteed through Article 25 of the constitution and a vibrant and pluralistic Beninese civil society works freely on a broad range of issues.read more
On 23rd May, national media regulator High Authority for Broadcasting and Communication and Communication (HAAC) suspended, until further notice, the newspaper La Nouvelle Tribune.
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 Benin, Reporters 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.
#Bénin : un nouveau code pénal, après 17 ans d’attente - Abrogation de la peine de mort, arsenal antiterroriste, rupture avec le droit pénal colonial... - Par @fiacrevi #Justice https://t.co/oj2zaStFEc— Jeune Afrique (@jeune_afrique) June 8, 2018
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.
Beninese citizens are free to create and join associations and groupings. Freedom of Association is guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution of the Republic of Benin and the government generally respects this right.
Beninese citizens are free to create and join associations and groupings. Freedom of Association is guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution of the Republic of Benin and the government generally respects this right. However, laws and procedures governing the registration of NGOs can be used to reject or delay the registration of CSOs. The Ministry of the Interior, Security and Decentralisation (MISD) oversees the registration process for CSOs and its lengthy registration processes have been criticised by civic organisations although these were attributed to bureaucratic inefficiency, rather than political motivations. Despite the absence of legal obstacles, societal attitudes towards the LGBTI community prevent groups demanding LGBTI rights from operating openly.
The people of Benin are unable to enjoy their rights to free assembly fully despite constitutional and international commitments. Organisers of demonstrations are required to obtain government permits to use public places for these.
The people of Benin are unable to enjoy their rights to free assembly fully despite constitutional and international commitments. Organisers of demonstrations are required to obtain government permits to use public places for these. The government occasionally cites ‘public order’ to deny requests for permits from opposition groups, civil society organisations and labour unions. Planned protests in Benin are also mostly peaceful, but violence can erupt when unplanned protests are met with aggression by authorities. In December 2014, several thousand people took to the streets of Benin’s commercial hub Cotonou in two separate marches prompted by a delay in holding local elections. In May 2015, an unplanned protest took place following the attempted arrest of an opposition politician by government forces. Police broke up the mobilisation, using excessive force, which resulted in clashes between protestors and police and leading to the use of tear gas and the closure of several roads. Ahead of the 2016 elections, the Minister of Interior issued a ban on all protests until the end of the political process.
Many media outlets and journalists in Benin face manipulation due to their reliance on funding from the government. Local CSOs have documented the government awarding contracts to media outlets for propaganda purposes Despite this fact, private and independent newspapers do enjoy a degree of autonomy and impartiality.
Many media outlets and journalists in Benin face manipulation due to their reliance on funding from the government. Local CSOs have documented the government awarding contracts to media outlets for propaganda purposes Despite this fact, private and independent newspapers do enjoy a degree of autonomy and impartiality. However, a lack of transparency regarding sources of information often negates the objectivity and quality of reporting. In March 2015, the government decriminalised defamation, which was previously a punishable offence, under the new ‘Information and Communication Code’. International human rights bodies have continued to question custodial sentences handed down under the old defamation law. In 2015 and 2016, Benin witnessed 11 violations of freedom of expression, including the suspension of Le Matinal newspaper by the authorities for insulting the previous President of Benin. Journalists have in the past been persecuted for their critical reporting of the president and government officials. Benin has an extremely low internet penetration rate, but an increasingly vibrant online community continues to grow.