Goma, September 5, 2018--Authorities in Benin should immediately reverse an order to suspend indefinitely the privately owned daily, La Nouvelle Tribune, and allow it to continue operating without interference, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
The paper's chief editor, Vincent Foly, told CPJ on August 15 that the country's media regulator, the High Authority for Communication and Audiovisual, ordered La Nouvelle Tribune to be suspended until further notice on May 23, for publishing content deemed "offensive, outrageous, and detrimental to the private life of the head of state."
The regulator's decision, published by news outlets, listed several articles that it said were critical of the president, which were published between January and April. The decision said the paper violated Benin's codes of information and ethics.
La Nouvelle Tribune has stopped printing, but its website remains online and accessible in Benin, Foly told CPJ.
"The suspension of Benin's La Nouvelle Tribune newspaper is a grave indication of the government's desire to curb freedom of the press and the Beninese population's access to information," said Angela Quintal, CPJ's Africa program coordinator. "Criticism of the powerful is no reason to suspend a newspaper and authorities should act swiftly to reverse their decision."
The articles listed by the media regulator criticized Benin's president, Patrice Talon, and his leadership skills. The articles were published on January 18 and 31; February 2, 15, 21, and 23; March 6 and 8; and April 17, 2018, according to the regulator's decision.
Foly said the paper was not told of any issue before receiving the suspension order. "I was never warned. I did not receive a call to order. If there was an infringement, it is an offense punishable by law. The president of the republic could have filed a suit against me for defamation. I don't understand why the HAAC took this decision," Foly said.
CPJ's repeated calls to the media regulator's president, Adam Boni Tessi, went unanswered. The regulator is made up of nine members appointed by the president, parliament, and media professionals.
The president's office did not immediately respond to CPJ's telephone calls or return its message requesting comment.