Like many countries around the world, the West African nation of Benin enshrines freedom of the press for its citizens in its constitution. But for CCIJ member Ignace Sossou, the lofty promises have contrasted starkly with his brutal imprisonment following a two-hour trial by governmental authorities in later December.
In an article for Ghana Business Day, CCIJ member Emmanuel Dogbevi laid out the unfortunate events surrounding our colleague:
The conviction and jailing today, December 23, 2019, the Eve of Christmas, of one of the country’s outstanding journalists, Ignace Sossou an editor with Benin WEB TV is a chilling reminder that Benin is failing in solidifying its democratic credentials. The 18-month sentencing of Sossou who was arrested from his home last Friday and tried within two days is a slap in the face of justice. His crime was that he had posted on Facebook, statements by a public official – statements that were made in public, by the way. Sossou only shared on Facebook statements made by the Beninoise Public Prosecutor Mario Mètonou.
On his first day in court on December 20, he was accused of defamation and disinformation in relation to Mètonou, according to Benin Web TV report and a statement from the Union of Media Professionals in Benin, a local press union, which was broadcast by the YouTube channel Icône TV.
Considering that this is the second time in a year that Sossou is being convicted for doing journalism is a miscarriage of justice, because journalism is not a crime.
In August this year, Sossou was convicted for revealing offshore accounts and shell companies of a businessman and French trade representative in Benin. He was fined and given a one-month suspended jail sentence by a court.
The criminal court in Benin’s capital, Cotonou, on August 12, found him guilty of publishing “false news” under the country’s draconian online press law about Benin-born businessman Jean-Luc Tchifteyan.
The court additionally, ordered him to pay a fine of $846. The amount is ten times the average monthly salary of a journalist in that country.”
CCIJ members have rallied to support Sossou since his unjust arrest and imprisonment in a number of ways:
- Member Matt Kauffman spearheaded the writing of a letter the organization sent last month to the U.S. Congressional Committee on Press Freedom. More than 50 members from 22 countries signed the document.
- CCIJ team members have also written about Sossou for Columbia Journalism Review and for the Lanthorn, the student newspaper for Grand Valley State University.
- CCIJ reached out to Investigative Reporters and Editors, which issued the following statement:
The board of Investigative Reporters and Editors joins other journalism organizations in support of the immediate release of Ignace Sossou, who is serving an 18-month prison sentence for doing his job as a journalist.
Sossou is the head of production at Benin Web TV, and a member of the 3i investigative journalists’ network. He was convicted of harassment for accurately reporting comments made by a public prosecutor. Sossou had previously received a one-month suspended prison sentence for exposing a tax evasion case.
IRE supports the rights of journalists the world over to do their jobs without fear of persecution. IRE calls on the Benin Republic to respect freedoms of expression and of the press guaranteed by the country’s own laws.
- CCIJ has communicated with the West African investigative network CENOZO to which Sossou belongs. CENOZO is working to provide support for Sossou’s family and initiated legal proceedings to secure his release.
We will continue to follow and support their progress and to speak out against the injustice being visited on one of our colleagues.