The Benin authorities have continued to show their disdain for the rule of law and the principles of natural justice by keeping in jail one of the country’s top journalists, Ignace Sossou whose works have exposed persons engaged in illicit financial flows (IFFs). While Sossou is in jail, none of the persons found to have engaged in the acts have been questioned by authorities.
According to the Global Financial Integrity (GFI), Benin is among the top 10 African countries with the highest losses in illicit financial flows by percentage of trade. The country lost $14.4 billion in 38 years from 1980 to 2018. The amount is 27.6 per cent of trade.
Security operatives dragged Sossou from his home on December 20, 2019, held him in detention and he was hastily tried, jailed 18 months and fined about 200,000 CFA under a draconian law on cyber harassment on clearly false allegations made by a state prosecutor, Mario Metonou, who made claims of harassment by electronic means against the journalist who had accurately quoted his speech on Twitter and Facebook, a speech he made in public about a new law passed by the Benin government on cyber harassment.
Sossou has appealed his unjust sentence and was due for hearing on April 28, but the appeal hearing was postponed to May 5, as his defence team provided additional information including evidence from the French organization CFI, whose initial misleading claims were used by the Prosecutor to make his case in court. The additional information, including audio of what Metonou said and other materials, supporting the fact of Sossou’s innocence.
At the initial hasty trial where Sossou was found guilty, a letter by the CFI to Benin’s Minister of Justice was read in court. In the letter, which circulated over social networks prior to the trial, CFI condemned Sossou’s journalistic practice and accused him of being “unscrupulous.” Two weeks later, CFI apologized and finally called for Sossou’s release, saying they had been “manipulated.”
During the appeal hearing on May 5 in Cotonou, Sossou’s defence lawyers argued that on the face of the evidence, their client should immediately be released from jail, but curiously, the Attorney General of Benin, instead argued for a reduction of the sentence from 18 months to 12 months. He also asked that the fine should be increased from 200,000 CFA to 500,000 CFA, and asked for more time to study the new evidence which was granted by the court.
All right thinking persons can see through these machinations as an attempt to punish the journalist for exposing wrongdoing by powerful people, because keeping Sossou in prison doesn’t serve any principle of justice.
The decision of the Benin authorities flies in the face of natural justice, especially during these times when the world is confronted by a pandemic. The spread of the coronavirus endangers everyone, but more importantly, people deprived of their liberty, and more so, those unjustly being held in prison, like Sossou.
We at Ghana Business News, join organisations around the world like the Committee to Protect Journalists, CENOZO, Reporters without Borders, Amnesty International, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Centre for Collaborative Investigative Journalism and all like-minded people to demand the immediate release of Sossou from prison, because he has done no wrong.
The Benin authorities must purge themselves of this injustice done to a man of high integrity who has shown his commitment to serving his country through the noble profession of journalism without which democracy will be a façade.
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi
Ghana Business News