In Benin, newspapers sanctioned for coverage of officials

Throughout December 2011, HAAC, Benin’s state-run media regulatory agency, summoned more than a dozen newspapers to public hearings and handed them sanctions ranging from a public apology to indefinite suspension, according to news reports. HAAC’s president is appointed by Benin’s head of state, and two-thirds of the agency’s members are appointed by the government, CPJ research shows.

The hearings followed complaints by officials and prominent public figures over critical articles the newspapers had published, according to local journalists and news reports.

On December 6, 2011, HAAC sanctioned at least nine newspapers. The circulation of the daily L’enquêteur was banned, and its editor, Boris Tougan, forbidden from practicing journalism, after Reckya Madougou, Benin’s microfinance and labor minister, filed a complaint over articles accusing her of involvement in drug trafficking, according to news reports. The court also suspended the weekly Le Journal du Peuple for three months based on a complaint by Osséni Moukaram, the mayor of Benin’s capital city, over a column that called him a “megalomaniac,” HAAC reported on its website.

The private biweekly Le Béninois Libéré was suspended for a month over articles that were critical of Prime Minister Pascal Irénée Koupaki, as well as a November 2011 story on the seizure of narcotics aboard a Gabonese presidential plane, according to news reports. In a statement, the government called the allegations “false and defamatory” and pledged to lodge a complaint against the paper for defamation.

HAAC suspended the daily Le Pays Emergent for a month over a column critical of businessman Sébastien Ajavon, according to news reports, and the daily L’Indépendant was suspended for two weeks for publishing stories that were critical of Koupaki.

News accounts reported that the daily L’Audace Infos was suspended for three weeks over an article accusing a senior police officer of embezzling public funds. The daily La Diaspora de Sabbat was suspended for three weeks following complaints by Didier Aplogan, the minister of sports and youth, and presidential adviser Joseph Tamègnon over critical articles the paper had published, news reports said. The dailies Le Justicier and Options Info were also ordered to print public apologies to various officials over critical stories they had published.

The next day, December 7, 2011, HAAC suspended dailies Aujourd’hui au Benin for one month and Nouvelle Generation for two weeks, after the former First Lady Marguerite Kerékou filed a complaint over articles accusing her of mismanaging a state-owned timber corporation, news reports said.

On December 8, 2011, HAAC then indefinitely suspended Le Béninois Libéré and banned its publisher, Éric Tchiakpè, and general manager, Aboubacar Takou, from ever reporting in Benin again, news reports said. CPJ obtained a copy of the court’s decision, which accused the paper of using “offensive, grotesque, and filthy” terms in a December 6, 2011, column that criticized Benin’s hosting of a summit of the heads of state of the regional organization Council of Entente. HAAC also accused the paper of publishing articles “likely to trouble public peace and compromise brotherhood and friendship between Benin … and other countries,” news reports said. Journalists from Le Béninois Libéré appealed the ban, and a verdict from the Supreme Court was pending.

Finally, in a hearing on December 21, 2011, the daily La Nouvelle Tribune was given a three-week suspension for publishing an open letter critical of the Supreme Court’s handling of the 1996 presidential elections and its results, according to news reports. Two other dailies, L’Evénement Précis and Le Matin, were also suspended for two weeks for publishing the open letter, according to news reports.

In a separate hearing, HAAC suspended the dailies La Suite and Le Devoir for two weeks for discussing the allegations of seizure of narcotics aboard the Gabonese presidential plane, according to news reports.

More recently, in March 2012, the daily Le Potentiel was handed a three-month suspension over a column that alleged wrongdoing by former public prosecutor Sévérine Lawson in her role as head of a government committee investigating a high-profile fraud case, according to news reports.