MFWA demands end to judicial harassment of Beninois journalist Virgile Ahouansè

The news editor of the privately-owned online radio, Crystal News, Virgile Ahouansè, is expected to appear in court on March 13, 2023, for a third hearing of a case in which he is accused of publishing false information. If found guilty, Virgile could be sentenced to six months in prison and fined about 500,000 CFA Francs (about USD $802).

He was arrested on December 20, 2022, by the Police Criminal Brigade of Cotonou and placed in custody the same day when he reported to the police station accompanied by his lawyers. Subsequently, he was charged with publishing false information aimed at disturbing the peace.

The arrest and charge are in connection with an investigative story that his media organization had published on December 14, 2022.

On December 22, 2022, Virgile had been released and placed under judicial supervision by the Cour de Repression des Infractions Economiques et du Terrorisme (CRIET), Benin’s special court which prosecutes economic crimes and acts of terrorism.

Although he is no longer in detention, the freedom of the news editor of Crystal News remains provisional. His passport is under confiscation and he is required to report to the police station every Friday.

The publication in question is a collection of the testimonies of many people who accused the Republican police of some 20 extrajudicial killings at the Dowa public school in Porto-Novo, the political capital of Benin. However, the witnesses in the investigation did not give the same accounts when taken into custody and interrogated.

Virgile remains confident about the outcome of the trial though.

“I am waiting in all serenity for the trial. I know that with my evidence I will win,” he told the MFWA in a telephone interview.

The incident has also made Virgile and his colleagues more cautious about their movements.

“Since my detention, I have been very careful, especially when I am in the street or driving. My colleagues also had to stop all the broadcasts, and so far, we have not really resumed our broadcasts, because they fear for their own safety,” he added.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) is concerned about the use of anti-terrorism and corruption laws to harass a journalist over a publication about alleged human rights abuses. There is nothing criminal about that, just as the official denial cannot be conclusive.

At this stage, Virgile can, at worse, be treated as a witness in an investigation into his allegations, which are based on eyewitness accounts.

We strongly condemn his arrest and detention which should not have happened and urge the Beninois authorities to stop abusing the rights of the journalist. We are confident that the court will ensure justice and uphold human rights.

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