Following his release from prison, Beninois journalist Ignace Sossou paid what he called a “thank you visit” to the offices of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) at East Legon, Accra, on February 19, 2020.
After a warm “elbow-shake” as the COVID-19 protocols will allow, the journalist who was imprisoned in 2019 in connection with his work, told the MFWA’s Executive Director that he had come to express gratitude and show appreciation to the MFWA for its role in getting him released from prison.
“I cannot thank the MFWA enough for the consistent advocacy you embarked on which contributed to my successful appeal and subsequent release from detention. The prison conditions were terrible, but your fight on my behalf, alongside the efforts of other press freedom organisations, always kept my spirit up,” the journalist said
Sossou, who works with Benin Web TV, was arrested at his home on December 20, 2019 by agents of the central office for the suppression of cybercrime and brought before a court, which sentenced him to 18 months in prison on December 24, 2019.
His arrest and conviction followed complaint from Benin’s Public Prosecutor that the journalist, who was covering a conference, had, in a tweet and a Facebook post, taken his words out of context.
Following Sossou’s imprisonment, the MFWA initiated many actions, including a joint petition with its national partner organisations, for the release of Ignace Sossou. We also joined many international human rights organisations to put pressure on the authorities in Benin to obtain the unconditional release of the journalist.
On March 24, 2020, which was exactly three months after Sossou was arrested, the MFWA again issued a statement calling on the beniniois authorities to end the unjust detention of the journalist.
On April 28, 2020, when the journalist was appearing in court for a hearing, MFWA and seven other press freedom organisations issued a statement calling on the Beninois authorities to release him particularly in view of the risk of infection by COVID-19 during his detention.
On 3 May, MFWA and its national partners sent a petition to the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Access to Information of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), Lawrence Mute, urging him to intervene in the case to secure the journalist’s release.
The pressure from freedom of expression organisations including MFWA contributed to the Court of Appeal commuting the sentence to 12 months, with 6 months suspended. He was finally released on June 24, 2020.
The grateful journalist decided to call at the offices of the MFWA to show appreciation for the organisation’s advocacy efforts which pressurised the Beninois authorities to shave 12 months off his 18-month sentence.
The Executive Director of the MFWA, Sulemana Braimah, praised the journalist for his fortitude and tenacity. He used the opportunity to express concern about the increasing exploitation of cyber-related laws to clamp down on online journalism and activism.