, COTONOU, Jan 31 – Benin’s President Thomas Boni Yayi has pardoned his former spokesman and the head of a TV station after the pair were convicted of insulting the head of state, the presidency said on Thursday.
Lionel Agbo, Yayi’s spokesman until March 2011, was earlier this month given a six-month sentence for suggesting the president had plans to circumvent limits to his term of office and for calling some of his aides corrupt.
Berthe Cakpossa, head of the private Canal 3 station, was handed a three-month prison term for broadcasting the September press conference where Agbo made the allegations.
“In the interest of easing tension, the president of the republic … has decided to withdraw his suit” against both Agbo and Cakpossa, a statement said.
Agbo is currently at large and was not in court on January 23 when the verdict was delivered.
Yayi’s office encouraged the former spokesman “to make contact” with the president’s office to discuss “the practical means of implementing this presidential pardon”, the statement said.
High-profile figures have been targeted in a series of recent cases in the small west African country, where Yayi has been accused of using the courts to go after his enemies, but the president has rejected such allegations.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has spoken out against Cakpossa’s conviction. Gabriel Baglo, the IFJ’s Africa director, said it was “disproportionate and apparently like a manoeuvre to reduce the press to self-censorship and silence”.
Baglo called this “a step backwards and a blow to the freedom of expression, of which Benin was until then a champion in Africa.”
Yayi’s term as the African Union’s rotating chairman ended this week.