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BENIN: Appeals court shortens journalist’s jail term

Benin police officer looks on as demonstrators gather to protest against the current president's free-market reforms in Cotonou on March 9, 2018. - Police fired teargas to break up an anti-government demonstration by Benin's political opposition involving thousands of people, according to AFP reporters on the ground. Protesters had gathered in Cotonou, Benin's economic hub, to march against President Patrice Talon but officers moved in when they strayed off an agreed course. Talon, a former businessman who made his fortune in cotton, was elected in April 2016, and has since tried to revamp the West African nation's stuttering economy. But his proposals for free-market reform have sparked widespread concern, leading to a series of public sector strikes that have crippled the education, justice and health sector. (Photo by Yanick Folly / AFP)

News Reporter

New York — In response to Tuesday’s decision by a Beninese appeals court to shorten journalist Ignace Sossou’s sentence to six months’ imprisonment and a six-month suspended sentence, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement:

“Today’s appeals court decision may shorten journalist Ignace Sossou’s unjust sentence, but it does not free him, and is still a stain on Benin’s press freedom record,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “The decision to keep a journalist behind bars amid the coronavirus pandemic simply for quoting a public official sends a chilling message to the local media community and signals to the world that the press is not free in Benin.”

Authorities arrested Sossou, a reporter with the privately owned Benin Web TV news website, on December 20, 2019, and sentenced him to 18 months in prison and a fine of 200,000 West African francs ($337) in relation to social media posts quoting a Beninese public prosecutor, Mario Mètonou, according to CPJ research. Today’s decision shortened his jail term but maintained the fine, according to Prisca Layo Ogoubi, one of Sossou’s lawyers, who spoke to CPJ by messaging app, and a report by Benin Web TV.

He is due to be released on June 24, according to that report.

In early April, CPJ and 80 other organizations wrote to African heads of state, including Beninese President Patrice Talon, calling for the release of all jailed journalists in order to mitigate COVID-19-related health risks.

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