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.