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Togo

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Last updated on 19.04.2018 at 08:27

Togo - Overview

A combination of bureaucratic hurdles and intimidation in practice impedes the work of Togo’s civil society organisations, human rights defenders and journalists.

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 New opposition protests and HRD arrested as political dialogue comes to a halt

New opposition protests and HRD arrested as political dialogue comes to a halt

On 11th April 2018, security forces dispersed opposition protests in Lomé and other towns in the country, reportedly using tear gas and causing several injuries. According to the opposition coalition, at least 25 people were injured and two opposition leaders were targeted by security forces.

As reported previously on the Monitor, the government announced on 20th November 2017 that a dialogue with the opposition was “in preparation”. Political mediation efforts started on 19th February under the leadership of Ghanaian President Akufo-Addo. After the first round of dialogue, during which the government committed to releasing 45 people who had been detained due to their involvement in the protests, the opposition coalition - consisting of 14 opposition parties - announced the cessation of protests. The authorities were encouraged to free the remaining 47 persons still in detention. The dialogue was suspended on 23rd February, with media reports citing controversy over presidential term limits as the main stumbling block. At a press conference on 1st March, the opposition coalition cited, among others, the right for all to peacefully assemble, the release of political prisoners and the suspension in all election-related processes by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) as the main reasons behind the stalled talks with the government. The parties resumed the dialogue on 23rd March, but it was again suspended on 26th March.

Peaceful Assembly

On 11th April 2018, security forces dispersed opposition protests in Lomé and other towns in the country, reportedly using tear gas and causing several injuries. According to the opposition coalition, at least 25 people were injured and two opposition leaders were targeted by security forces. Prior to the protests, the Minister of Territorial Administration had banned such actions, stating that they would be in violation of the conditions surrounding the mediation efforts taking place under the leadership of Ghanaian President Akufo-Addo (see above). The opposition coalition called for new protests on 11th, 12th and 14th April to demand, among other issues, an end to the government's move to unilaterally make plans regarding the electoral process prior to the legislative elections whose date has yet to be set. 

Prior to the start of the dialogue, a series of almost weekly demonstrations continued across the country calling for a return to the 1992 Constitution and the resignation of President Faure Gnassingbe. On 8th January 2018, authorities banned rallies planned in three major cities - Sokodé, Bafilo and Mango - citing security concerns. A day earlier, armed soldiers and militia allegedly assaulted members of the Pan-African National Party (PNP) during a meeting in the city of Kara, considered a stronghold of the ruling party Union pour la Republique (Union for the Republic). On 20th January, thousands of women protested against President Faure Gnassingbé. The group of women, dressed in black, marched from three different points in Lomé and were joined by members and leaders of the opposition.

Association

On 4th April 2018, officers of the Intelligence and Investigation Service (IRS) arrested Assiba Johnson, president of the organisation Regroupement des jeunes africains pour la démocratie et le développement (REJADD - Group of Young Africans for Democracy and Development). The arrest followed the publication on 5th February of a report by REJADD and Réseau africain pour les initiatives de droits de l’homme et de solidarité (RAIDHS - African Network for Initiatives on Human Rights and Solidarity) detailing the repression of protests in Togo between August 2017 and January 2018. The preliminary report entitled - TOGO: plus de 100 morts dans la répression des marches pacifiques du 19 août 2017 au 201 janvier 2018 - claims that more than 100 people have lost their lives since the beginning of the protests on 19th August 2017. Since the publication of the report, Johnson had been intimidated and harassed. An official statement by the government on 13th February said the report was "insulting, tendentious and manipulative" and that it reserves the right to start legal proceedings against the REJADD and RAIDHS. Johnson faces charges of spreading false news and contempt of authorities. Human rights groups have condemned the arrest and requested the government to guarantee and respect fundamental human rights. 

On 13th February, Amnesty International, Front Line Defenders and Africans Rising issued a joint statement to denounce the harassment and intimidation of pro-democracy activists in the country, including the arrest and judicial harassment of members of the movement Nubueke (A new day is coming). On 23rd January 2018, the movement's coordinator in Kpalimé - Bob Atikpo - was arrested by the Intelligence and Investigation Service. The Court of Lomé condemned him later on 2nd March 2018 to a prison sentence of 12 months, with nine months suspension. Two other members of the movement - Messan Kokodoko and Eza Kokou Dodji - were arrested earlier in October 2017. 

Association

Togo’s Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of association. However, in practice, associations can be denied legal registration if they offend public morality or undermine the integrity of the government.

Togo’s Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of association. However, in practice, associations can be denied legal registration if they offend public morality or undermine the integrity of the government. This makes the formation of associations difficult, particularly for LGBTI organisations who are not free to seek registration as they are deemed by law to offend public morals. Rural organisations have to travel to the capital city in order to be registered, placing a de facto restriction on their associational rights. CSOs in Togo also face obstacles in their day-to-day work that include harassment and intimidation. For example, the president of the Association of Victims of Torture in Togo, Amah Olivier was arrested in September 2014 and charged with “inciting rebellion” after he gave an interview to a radio station. He also received death threats during his period of arrest. He was subsequently judicially harassed and eventually fled into exile in 2014. Human rights defenders also face threats and intimidation. In 2012, Koffi Kounté, the president of the National Human Rights Commission, had to flee the country after he published a report documenting torture by the intelligence services after a 2009 coup attempt. He remains in exile.

Peaceful Assembly

The right to freedom of assembly is guaranteed under the Constitution and the law requires that protest organisers give the authorities advance notice of their intention to gather.

The right to freedom of assembly is guaranteed under the Constitution and the law requires that protest organisers give the authorities advance notice of their intention to gather. While most protests are peaceful, the consequences of protesting can sometimes be deadly. In November 2015, police used excessive force in the town of Mango against protestors who opposed a proposed nature reserve. They opened fire, killing 7, injuring 117 and arresting 60. In a similar fashion, police also opened fire on student protestors in 2013 in Dapaong town killing two students. Arrests are also common. In March 2016, the president of Mouvement Martin Luther King (a human rights movement), Pastor Edoh Komi, was arrested and a litany of charges was pressed against him including “disturbing public order” as a result of his organising of a sit-in protest. In 2014, Pastor Komi reported that he was intimidated by the security forces to prevent a series of protests that were demanding compensation for those displaced in the 1980s to make way for a dam construction. Protests, especially those that are politically motivated are often repressed. In May 2013, a temporary two-day ban was imposed in the capital after several protests by the opposition and civil society groups against the death of an opposition leader.

Expression

Freedom of the press is protected under Article 26 the Constitution. In practice, the Press and Communication Code undermines these rights by imposing punishments including steep fines and suspension of media licences for the publication of information that is “at variance with reality”.

Freedom of the press is protected under Article 26 the Constitution. In practice, the Press and Communication Code undermines these rights by imposing punishments including steep fines and suspension of media licences for the publication of information that is “at variance with reality”. Defamation is a criminal offence and defamation of public officials is also punishable by fines. Under the Penal Code, offences by the media are also punishable by jail sentences of between six months and two years. Although a vibrant press exists, the High Authority of Broadcasting and Communications has the power to suspend media and grant licences and has, in the past, disciplined journalists who are critical of the state. In 2013, a day before elections, the regulator suspended critical radio station Legende FM for a month and later closed it completely saying it incited public violence. Journalists experience judicial harassment and intimidation. In 2012 for example, Max Savi Carmel, a journalist with bi-monthly publication Tribune, was interrogated for six hours and pressured by police to drop a story he was working on. Internet penetration and mobile access are rapidly increasing with access free at public universities.