- A magistrate's court in Benin capital Cotonou today jailed three of the country's journalists to six months in prison after they were found guilty of libel. Benin until now has been seen as Africa's freest country when it comes to activities of the press.
The three journalists - Euloge Aidasso, Joel Ahoffodi and Charbel Aihou who all work for 'La Gazette du Gold' media organisation - were also each fined to pay franc CFA 500, 000 (US$ 1,000).
The three broadcast journalists were convicted for broadcasting libelling statements against Luc Gnacadja, a former Environment Minister, dismissed in 2004. They had accused Mr Gnacadja, whose office was managing a project to build 50 houses, of making unjustified expenditures and even inflate prices of building materials.
In one instance, they accused Mr Gnacadja of purchasing a four-wheel drive vehicle for CFA 34 million but inflated the price to CFA 54 million.
The anger-ridden former Minister filed a suit against the journalists asking for a payment of CFA 5 million damages.
In court, the journalists failed to prove their case, which led to their imprisonment.
Media watchdog groups over the past years have put Benin at the top of their list of African countries, together with South Africa, when it comes to respect press freedom. No major incidents against journalists had been recorded and no press workers had been put to jail.
International freedom of expression standards advice against putting journalists to jail for doing their work, although they do not rule out fines to be handed down in private libel cases. The imprisonment of the three Beninese journalists thus will dramatically lower the country's star on the listing of press freedom in Africa in 2007.
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