Benin suspends local paper for insulting president

Benin’s media regulator, the High Authority for Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC), ordered the privately owned daily L’Audace Info on February 8, 2018 to suspend indefinitely its print and online editions after it allegedly insulted the president, the paper’s editor, Romuald Alingo, told CPJ.

The broadcasting authority’s president, Adam Boni Tessi, said in a statement published by the PANA news agency that the independent newspaper was suspended because it insulted President Patrice Talon in a February 8 article entitled “Talon robs Beninese to the core,” which compared salaries of civil servants with those of parliament and cabinet members. In the statement, Tessi said that the High Authority for Broadcasting and Communication had received previous complaints against L’Audace Info for alleged slander and defamation, though the statement did not specify who lodged the complaints.

CPJ was unable to reach Tessi on his cell or work phones for further comment despite repeated attempts.

Alingo told CPJ that the article simply stated the facts.

L’Audace Info, known for its critical corruption reporting and anti-government stance, also faces a possible fine of up to 500,000 West African francs (US$940) for allegedly failing to lodge a copy of the February 8 edition with the public prosecutor’s office, the public prosecutor Gilbert Togbonon told CPJ.

A copy of every newspaper edition must be filed on its day of publication with the public prosecutor’s office; failure to do so can result in a fine of up to 500,000 West Africa francs (US$940), according to Article 63 of Benin’s Code of Information and Communication.

Of Benin’s approximately 73 daily papers, 17 filed copies of their February 8 editions, according to daily register entries seen by CPJ.

The public prosecutor told CPJ that he was focusing on the paper not being correctly filed, but did not exclude the possibility that he may yet consider insult charges.

Separately, Alingo told CPJ that in January 2018 he received anonymous threats via phone warning that he would soon go missing if he did not stop his critical reporting. Alingo told CPJ he began fearing for his life and the safety of his family, and has since gone into hiding with them. The editor said that he did not report the threats to police.

In early January, a person close to the government tried to bribe him, saying he could name his price, as long as he stopped his critical reporting, Alingo said.

CPJ documented attempts by the High Authority for Broadcasting and Communication to shut down online publications in December 2017, and how a court in May 2017 fined the media regulator for its wrongful closure of Sikka TV.