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Six journalists sentenced to prison

(RSF/IFEX) - In a letter to Justice Minister Joseph Gnonlofoun, RSF has
protested the sentencing of six journalists in Cotonou to prison. RSF asked
that these six journalists not be arrested and that the 1999 press law,
notably Article 86, which calls for prison sentences of up to three months
for "defamation", be relaxed. RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard added
that: "sentencing a person to a term of imprisonment for a press offence is
regarded by international human rights bodies as out of proportion to the
damage sustained by the victim. Which explains why today no democratic state
imprisons journalists for press law violations."

According to information gathered by RSF, on 7 and 8 September 1999, three
journalists and three editors of the newspapers "L'Aurore", "Le Matin" and
"L'il du peuple", received prison sentences ranging from a six-month
suspended sentence to one-year imprisonment and heavy fines. The criminal
court presided by Judge Honorat Adjovi found the six journalists guilty of
"defamation" in a number of separate cases. He also issued summonses against
the journalists, who were not in court when the verdicts were read.

The editor of "L'Aurore", Patrick Adjamonsi, and a journalist with the
daily, Basile Pchibozo, are accused of slandering a Red Cross worker. The
editor of "Matin", Vincent Folly, and the newspaper's editor-in-chief,
Pierre Matchoudo, are being sued by a former director of the Air Navigation
Security Agency (Agence pour la sécurité de la navigation aérienne, ASECNA),
who was fired after having been found guilty of embezzlement. Finally, the
editor of "L'il du Peuple", Célestin Abissi, and a reporter with the
newspaper, Charles Tori, were sentenced to twelve-month prison terms and
ordered to pay three million CFA Francs (approx. US$4,800) in damages and
interest, in a case which is several years old and which had seemingly been
settled at an earlier date. It appears that the court's decision to sentence
these six journalists simultaneously is connected to the publication of
articles in the newspapers "Le Matinal" and "L'Aurore" this past week which
leveled accusations against a former state prosecutor.

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