Cotonou, Benin―Benin sentenced an investigative journalist to 18 months in prison on Tuesday for comments he posted on social media, his lawyer told AFP.
Ignace Sossou quoted on his Facebook and Twitter pages comments made by Benin’s public prosecutor Mario Metonou at a media event to discuss fake news on December 17.
The comments made by the official appeared to criticize the government’s attitude towards freedom of expression.
“The internet outage on [legislative] polling day on April 28 is an admission of weakness on the part of those in power,” the prosecutor reportedly said.
Sossou “has been convicted of harassment through electronic communications”, his lawyer, Prisca Ogoubi told AFP.
The former French colony has typically been seen as among West Africa’s most stable democracies. But Benin has been facing a political crisis since controversial parliamentary elections in April sparked mass protests.
President Patrice Talon, a former business magnate who came to power in 2016, has been accused of becoming increasingly authoritarian and has carried out a concerted crackdown on his opponents that has driven key rivals into exile.
Last week, Benin’s media regulatory authority suspended the radio station of Sebastien Ajavon, a Beninese businessman and opponent in exile.
Sossou works for the online news website Benin web TV, and collaborates with several news organizations such as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and the 3i Network.
He had already been sentenced to a suspended prison sentence on a separate charge of “publishing fake news” after he reported on offshore accounts and front companies targeting Beninese and French businessmen.
In a statement on Tuesday, the 3i Network called for Sossou’s immediate release, stating that his conviction was “completely contrary to the... spirit of respect for press freedom”.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Benin 96th in its press freedom index this year.