Media protest against beating, detention of journalists

Benin's private press association observed a "no press day" on Monday to denounce the detention and beating of four journalists from the daily Le Telegramme, following the publication by the newspaper of a letter critical of the country's authorities.

On Monday, about 30 daily newspapers and other periodicals were off the newsstands and a handful of private radio stations played only music. Monday's demonstration was scheduled to be followed on Thursday by a march through the streets of Cotonou.

On 1 April, the four journalists, including managing editor Etienne Houessou, were taken to the main police situation in Cotonou where they were beaten detained and later released. The authorities accused them of violating journalistic ethics by publishing a letter from a group of underground policemen addressed to Benin's national head of police, Raymond Fadonougbo, which the latter deemed a personal insult.

The press association said in a communique that while Le Telegramme had violated journalistic ethics, that did not warrant physical abuse. "Media organisations condemn vigorously these acts which threaten Benin's democracy and press freedom," the statement said.

The communique also deplored the fact that the police had taken the law into its own hands by punishing the journalists, and urged Fadonougbo to resign.

The media watchdog, Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF), also condemned the incident and urged police and military authorities to use all legal means to condemn journalists, rather than taking matters into their own hands. "We hope that this is an isolated event and urge you to punish those responsible for these acts', RSF said in a letter to the minister of communication.