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CPJ TROUBLED BY JAILING OF JOURNALISTS

In Benin, a country with one of the better press freedom records in West Africa, two reporters have been imprisoned this year, becoming the first journalists since 1996 to be jailed for their work, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

On 13 August 2004, Patrick Adjamonsi, publication director of the daily newspaper "L'Aurore," was arrested on defamation charges and sent to prison in Cotonou. The charges stem from an article he wrote in November 2003, which suggested that corruption may have been involved when the state communications authority, La Haute Autorité de l'Audiovisuel et de la Communication (High Authority for Audio-Visual Communications), disbursed government subsidies for the private press, says CPJ.

Intially sentenced to six months in jail, Adjamonsi appealed the ruling and won a retrial, which is scheduled for 19 October.

A second journalist, Jean-Baptiste Hounkonnou, was jailed on 16 March 2004 after he was sentenced to six months in prison for defamation, says CPJ. The publication director of the daily newspaper "Le Nouvel Essor," Hounkonnou was released from jail in May after he appealed. However, he continues to face defamation charges that could land him in jail again.

Meanwhile, two other journalists for the private newspaper "La Pyramide" face the prospect of imprisonment if they lose a court case scheduled for October. Reporter John Akintola and publication director Christophe Hodonou are being charged for defamation because of an article in "La Pyramide" which reported on the distribution of press subsidies.

CPJ says these cases are troubling considering Benin's record on press freedom over the past few years. "The Béninois government's general tolerance for criticism, and the country's vibrant and growing media have often set a good press freedom example for other countries in West Africa," the organisation says.

Other IFEX members have also rated Benin highly among African countries. In its 2004 annual survey, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontierès, RSF) said Benin was "one of the African countries that respect press freedom the most."

Freedom House's 2004 Press Freedom Survey noted that "constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression are largely respected in practice" and "media outlets are relatively free to criticize the government without interference." Benin was one of seven African countries rated as "Free."

For more information, visit these links:

- CPJ:
www.cpj.org

- RSF:
www.rsf.org

- Freedom House Backgrounder on Benin:
www.freedomhouse.org

(Map: © Human Rights Watch)

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