Dakar, January 10, 2023 — Beninese authorities should drop the false news charges against journalist Virgile Ahouansè and ensure that members of the press do not face legal harassment for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.
On December 19, an officer with the police criminal brigade called Ahouansè, news director of the privately owned internet radio station Crystal News, and asked him to appear the following day at a police station in Porto-Novo, the capital, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ by phone. When Ahouansè arrived at the station on December 20, officers arrested him and held him for 48 hours, he said.
Ahouansè was released on bail on December 22, and is due to appear in court on February 13 to face charges of spreading false news aimed at disturbing the peace, according to those sources. If convicted, he faces up to six months in prison and a fine of 500,000 Central African francs (US$807), under Benin’s digital code.
“Benin authorities must drop the charges against journalist Virgile Ahouansè and reform the country’s digital code to ensure journalism is not criminalized,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in New York. “Journalists in Benin should not worry that their work may land them in prison or under criminal investigation.”
The charge against Ahouansè stems from his investigation published December 14, 2022, which accused police of carrying out extrajudicial killings, the journalist told CPJ. During his detention, authorities questioned him about that investigation for more than five hours.
Upon his release, the special prosecutor at the Court of Repression of Economic Offenses and Terrorism imposed bail conditions requiring Ahouansè to surrender his passport, not leave the country, and return to the police station every Friday, according to the journalist and those news reports.
CPJ has previously documented how authorities use Benin’s digital code to jail journalists for their work. CPJ’s calls and messages sent via messaging app to Benin police spokesperson Roger Tawès did not receive any replies.