The Norbert Zongo Cell for Investigative Journalism in West Africa (CENOZO) learned with dismay of the arrest of journalist Ignace Sossou and his conviction on 24 December 2019 by the Beninese justice system to a sentence of 18 months in prison and to a fine of 200.00 FCFA.
The conviction of our colleague follows three (03) publications on social media relaying the statements of Prosecutor Mario Mètenou during a workshop organized by CFI Medias on 19 December 2019 in Cotonou.
After his arrest at dawn on Friday 20 December at his home, Mr. Sossou was taken to the Central Office for the Suppression of Cybercrime, where he was detained until his trial on 24 December 2019.
Judged in immediate trial the day before Christmas, Ignace is accused of having "taken out of context" the words of the prosecutor Mario Mètenou. For this, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison and 200,000 CFA francs in fines.
In addition to this hasty procedure, CENOZO remains speechless when reading the administrative letter from the French Cooperation Agency (CFI Media) addressed to the Minister of Justice of Benin and describing our colleague as "unscrupulous". This letter openly accuses Ignace Sossou of having published "sentences, truncated and taken out of context [which] absolutely do not reflect the content of the discussions we had during the debate".
Eager and determined to contribute to the manifestation of the truth, CENOZO sought to obtain audio recordings of the conference. It is in this spirit that CENOZO sent CFI Africa director Pierre Jalladeau on 26 December a request for an explanation of the circumstances that prevailed when this letter was written.
The three tweets blamed on our colleague, which are only a transcript of the remarks made by the judicial authority during this meeting of 19 December by CFI can absolutely not justify such a sentence.
CENOZO is deeply concerned about the hasty nature of the trial and the severity of the sentence thus imposed on one of its members. It condemns with the utmost energy this serious attack on freedom of expression and press freedom and demands the immediate release of the journalist.
CENOZO expresses her disagreement with the approach of CFI Medias, an agency which claims to be a partner of the African media and journalists.
CENOZO is concerned about the deterioration of press freedom in Benin in recent years. It takes this opportunity to draw attention of the Beninese authorities on the imperative respect for freedom of expression and pressfreedom guaranteed by the constitution and the laws of Benin, as well as international commitments to which it has freely subscribed. CENOZO urges them to work for the immediate and unconditional release of journalist Ignace Sossou.
CENOZO congratulates the professional media organizations in Benin for their mobilization and invites them to take all the steps that could contribute to the release of Ignace Sossou and to protect press freedom.
Dated 3 January 2020
The Board of Directors of CENOZO