Journalists detained, media group suspended until further order over its coverage of the military coup in Niger
On 8th January 2023, Benin held legislative elections. The ruling parties – the Progressive Union for Renewal (UPR) and the Republican Bloc (BR) - obtained 37.56 percent and 29.23 percent respectively, thereby winning 81 seats in Benin’s Parliament, giving President Patrice Talon an absolute majority. The main opposition party, Les Démocrates (LD), won 28 seats, the first time in four years that the opposition has had seats in the legislative assembly, as they were barred from participating in 2019 as a result of more stringent requirements under the new Electoral Code. As reported previously on the Monitor, civic space violations surrounded the 2019 elections, including blanket bans on protests, a shutdown of the internet, arbitrary arrests and the use of excessive and lethal force against protesters.
#Bénin 🇧🇯 : le journaliste Virgile Ahouansè de Crystal News condamné à 1 an de prison avec sursis. RSF réprouve cette décision affligeante et appelle à une réforme urgente du Code du numérique, utilisé pour s’attaquer aux journalistes. https://t.co/trCjKdYwqV pic.twitter.com/kaSaEDbyBD— RSF (@RSF_inter) June 15, 2023
Arrest and prosecution of journalist
On 15th June 2023, the specialist Court for Economic Offences and Terrorism sentenced journalist Virgile Ahouansè, news director for the online radio station Crystal News, to a suspended prison sentence of 12 months and a fine of 200,000 francs CFA (327 USD) after it found the journalist guilty of the ‘dissemination of false news’ under Article 550 of the Digital Code.
Police officers had arrested Ahouansè on 20th December 2022, reportedly after he was summoned to appear, and was held for 48 hours. He was released on bail on 22nd December 2022.
The charges stem from a report aired in December 2022 alleging extrajudicial killings perpetrated by police officers at the Dowa public school in Porto Novo. Two people who were interviewed in the radio report, including the caretaker of the school, were likewise prosecuted and sentenced by the court.
Detention of Nigerian journalist on accusations of involvement in a terrorist movement
On 31st August 2023, police officers arrested Nigerian environmental journalist and editor for the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ), Damilola Ayeni, when he was on an assignment in Pendjari National Park, northern Benin. Ayeni was accused of involvement with a jihadi terrorist movement and held incommunicado at a police station in Parakou until 5th September 2023, when he was transferred to Cotonou. Ayeni was released on 8th September 2023 after he appeared before the Court for Economic Offences and Terrorism. FIJ said in a report that it was contacted by someone identifying as the ‘Central Commissioner of Parakou’ who reportedly demanded 800,000 francs CFA for the journalist’s release.
🚨Au #Bénin, la Haute Autorité de l’Audiovisuel et de la Communication (Haac) a suspendu le Groupe de presse “La Gazette du Golfe” pour «apologie de coup d’Etat». Une décision qui fait suite au traitement par les médias dudit Groupe, des récents événements survenus depuis le 26… pic.twitter.com/GPY3GhLnfp— LSI AFRICA (@lsiafrica) August 9, 2023
Media outlet suspended over coverage of the military coup in Niger
On 8th August 2023, the Haute Autorité de l’Audiovisuel et Communication (HAAC; High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication), Benin’s national media regulator, suspended, until further order, pan-African media group La Gazette du Golfe, which includes its TV channels, radio, print and online outlets.
The regulator accuses La Gazette du Golfe of not having met its request to media, outlined in a statement on 3rd August 2023, to “scrupulously respect constitutional and legal provisions” in its treatment of information condoning military coups in Africa and the subregion. In particular, the HAAC accuses the media group of having condoned in its coverage the 26th July military coup in Niger.
The decision to suspend the media group was criticised, including by the Union des professionnels des médias du Bénin (UPMB, Union of Media Professionals of Benin). UPMB’s President, Zakiath Latoundji, commented to the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA):
Let’s not forget that the mission of the media is to inform the public, to analyze, stimulate public debate, to educate and to entertain. For this reason, a topical issue as important as the situation in Niger cannot be ignored by the media, especially a high-profile medium such as Golfe Télévision. - Zakiath Latoundji, President Union des professionnels des médias du Bénin
On 2nd November 2023, the Constitutional Court ruled that the HAAC did not violate Benin’s Constitution.
Protest against high cost of living dispersed
According to news reports, police officers dispersed a protest on 22nd September 2023 in Parakou. People had gathered to protest against the high cost of living and the potential military intervention of ECOWAS in Niger.
Opposition protest banned, prevented
On 30th October 2023, police officers reportedly prevented a protest, organised by opposition party Les Démocrates, from taking place in Djidja, Zou Department. Administrative authorities told Benin Web TV that the organisers had not received authorisation to hold the protest.