Benin’s president pardoned the director of a television station who was previously sentenced to jail and fined for “offending the head of state,” the Committee to Protect Journalists reports.
President Boni Yayi pardoned Berthe Cakpossa, director of the private channel Canal 3 TV, on Jan. 31 — two weeks after Cakpossa was sentenced to three months and a fine of $1,000, explained Jeune Afrique.
The fine was also suspended.
Cakpossa was charged after the Sept. 18 broadcast of a press conference in which former presidential advisor Lionel Agbo accused Yayi’s entourage of corruption of which Yayi was aware. Agbo called for criminal prosecutions against Yayi’s associates connected to a scandal in which they were accused of accepting bribes in the construction of a dry port in the southern town of Tori-Bossito, La Nouvelle Tribune reports.
Benin’s 1997 press law states that journalists are considered authors of third-party statements in their reports, Cakpossa’s defense lawyer Claret Dedie said. Yayi then filed a complaint with the High Authority for Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC), Benin’s state-run media regulator, the day after the Canal 3 broadcast. In the letter, he accused the station of “disturbing public order,” and denied the accusations, according to La Nouvelle Tribune.
The HAAC then suspended two of Canal 3’s television programs on Nov. 20. Sunday talk show Sous L’Arbre à Palabres was suspended for three months, and a debate segment on daily news program Actu Matin, was suspended for two weeks.
Yayi had compared the two programs to Radio-Télévision Libre des Mille Collines, a program infamous for its role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, according to CPJ. He said presenters on the Sept. 16 edition of Sous L’Arbre à Palabres had made “accusations based on unfounded information.” The presenters had been discussing a corruption scandal in which Yayi’s associates were accused of receiving bribes from a private company for the construction of the dry port in Tori-Bossito. The president later fired top aides and officials accused of involvement, according to La Nouvelle Tribune.
Acu Matin was accused of “conveying information of a nature threatening public order, through hateful, biased, and seditious statements aimed at undermining unity and national cohesion, according to CPJ, but did not give details on the accusation.
Agence France-Presse reported that the pardon was announced in a statement released Jan. 31 by Benin authorities that said Cakpossa and Agbo were pardoned after the president decided to withdraw his complaint against them “in the interest of easing tension.”
Dedie said that her defendant was not in prison at the time of the pardon because prison terms of less than six months do not require immediate incarceration, according to CPJ.
By Nassim Benchaabane.