Journalist Jailed 18 Months for “Misquoting” Public Prosecutor on Social Media

A court in Benin has sentenced an investigative journalist to 18 months in prison and a fine of CFA francs 200,000 (about US$ 400) for a post on social media.

Ignace Sossou was arrested and detained on December 20, 2019 at his home by officials of the central office for the suppression of cybercrime and sentenced on December 24, 2019.

The day before his arrest, the journalist had posted on his Facebook and Twitter pages remarks made by the Public Prosecutor, Mario Metonou on “fake news.”

“The internet shutdown on (legislative) polling day on April 28 is an admission of weakness on the part of those in power,” read the social media post said to be the words of the prosecutor.

“The legal system in Benin in its present state does not offer judicial security to litigants,” said another post attributed to the Prosecutor.

Ignace Sossou, who works with the online media, Benin Web TV, was sentenced for “harassment through electronic means of communication” after the Prosecutor complained that the remarks had been taken out of context.

The journalist’s lawyer, Prisca Oboubi, has protested that even if Sossou were guilty, the law provided for a maximum sentence of 12 months. It is therefore mind-boggling that the judge sentenced the journalist to 18 months.

The investigative journalists’ network, Réseau 3i, has issued a communiqué demanding the immediate release of Ignace Sossou

It is the second time this year that Sossou has been sentenced under Benin’s digital code. On August 12, 2019, he was sentenced to a one-month suspended jail term and a fine of CFA francs 550,000 (about US$ 850).The journalist had published two investigative articles in which he made tax evasion allegations against a company, owned by a French business tycoon, Jean Luc Tchifteyan.

The MFWA is concerned about the conviction of Ignace Sossou for a merely relaying the remarks of the Public Prosecutor.  Assuming that he misquoted the prosecutor, the journalist still deserves the benefit of being notified and asked to rectify the information.  The recourse to criminal justice to litigate a case of false publication in a country that has decriminalised libel is disturbing.

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