CSO campaign ‘Laissez-moi choisir en 2021’; unauthorised online outlets ordered to cease activities

Association

Civil society campaign « Laissez-moi choisir en 2021 » (‘Let me choose in 2021’)

Ahead of the presidential elections in April 2021, ten civil society organisations launched the campaign Laissez-moi choisir en 2021 (Let me choose in 2021) on 4th September 2020, demanding the withdrawal of certain provisions of the electoral law that were adopted in November 2019. The controversial provision 132 introduces the system of ‘parrainages’, requiring candidates for the offices of president and vice-president to be sponsored by at least 10 percent of the total members of Parliament and/or mayors (16 representatives). Following the disputed legislative elections in April 2019 – in which opposition parties could not participate due to stringent requirements under the 2018 Electoral Code – and the municipal elections in April 2020, in which only one opposition party gained the a majority of councillors in seven municipalities, opposition candidates for the 2021 presidential elections will struggle to meet the 10 percent threshold. In the long term, the organisations ask for an inclusive process of political reform. Ralmeg Gandaho, who coordinates the initiative, said:

“With deputies who are 100% on the side of the Head of State and 96.25% of mayors who support of the Head of State, the college of sponsors provided for by law leaves no possibility of alternation in 2021. Application of the law will in fact make democracy impossible. This is contrary to the essence of the political reforms led by the head of state." (Translated from French)

Expression

Authorities ordered online media ‘without prior authorisation’ to cease activities

In a statement issued on 8th July 2020, Benin’s national media regulator, the Haute Autorité de l’Audiovisuelle et de la Communication (HAAC), ordered all online media outlets ‘without prior authorisation’ to cease all publications with immediate effect or face ‘the severity of the law’. In a press conference, spokesperson of HAAC Fernand Gbaguidi reportedly said that ‘there are persons who do not respond to morality surveys’ and that this ‘constitutes a danger for the country’. Professional media and press freedom organisations criticized the decision, while also highlighting that it would further strain the media sector that is already feeling the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Zakiath Latoundji of the Union des professionels des medias (Union of media professionals) commented:

“The intention to clean up is not bad, but we denounce the brutality of the [HAAC] statement. Some online bodies had taken steps to be in good standing, paid the required amount, but the HAAC never followed up". (translated from French)

Press freedom CSO Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that in 2017 the national media regulator threatened with a similar action. CPJ's Angela Quintal commented: 

“There is absolutely no reason for Benin authorities to order online media to stop publishing. The public in Benin deserves to have access to information in whatever format it is being reported without undue interference or creatively applied regulation and bureaucracy.”

Peaceful Assembly

On 15th August 2020, police officers reportedly prevented a meeting organised by Professor of Law, constitutional expert and presidential candidate Frédéric Joël Aïvo with youth groups in Ouinhi, in the Department of Zou, on the upcoming presidential elections in 2021. Authorities justified the action by a decree issued by the prefect prohibiting all gatherings of over 50 people as a measure to limit the spread of COVID-19.