Media regulator suspends three media outlets, two HRDs and one journalist briefly detained
🇹🇬#Togo: @OBS_defenders condamne l’arrestation arbitraire de 2 membres du @CACITOGO2 alors qu'ils étaient en mission— The Observatory (@OBS_defenders) May 4, 2020
📣Nous appelons les autorités togolaises à cesser tout acte de harcèlement à l’encontre des défenseurs des droits humains!@FEGnassingbehttps://t.co/82zqWcKCKk pic.twitter.com/gT03Q26wIR
Two human rights defenders and one journalist briefly detained while observing and covering arrest of opposition leader
On 21st April 2020, security agents detained two members of the human rights network Collectif des associations contre l’impunité au Togo (CACIT; Collective of Associations against Impunity in Togo) in the vicinity of the residence of opposition leader Agbéyomé Kodjo in Lomé. The two HRDs - Kossi Béni Okouto and Degboe Mawuena Doudji - were on a mission to observe the respect of human rights during the arrest of opposition leader Agbéyomé Kodjo. According to the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), Okouto and Doudji were reportedly stopped by security agents and asked to prove their membership of CACIT. They were subsequently taken to the offices of the Central Research and Criminal Investigation Services (SCRIC) supposedly to verify their CACIT membership status, where they were taken into custody. According to a joint statement by five national, regional and international human rights groups, including Coalition Togolaise des Défenseurs des Droits des Humains (Togolese Coalition of Human Rights Defenders) and Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (ROADDH, West African Human Rights Defenders Network), journalist Teko-Ahatefou Aristo of online news site Togo Actualités was detained alongside Okouto and Doudji. They were released in the evening of the same day.
On 20th April 2020, security forces surrounded the residence of Agbéyomé Kodjo, president of the opposition Mouvement patriotique pour la démocratie et le développement (MPDD), and he was arrested the following day. Kodjo, a candidate in the presidential elections in February 2020, disputed the official electoral results and subsequently declared himself the president of Togo. Authorities accuse Kodjo of undermining the internal security of the state, use of state insignia, aggravated disturbance of public order and slanderous accusations, among others. He failed to respond to summonses by the Central Research and Criminal Investigation Services (SCRIC) on 1st, 9th and 21st April 2020 - due to 'health reasons' according to Kodjo's lawyers. His parliamentary immunity was lifted earlier in March 2020. Agbéyomé Kodjo was released under conditions on 24th April but remains under judiciary control.
Tear gas against a group of journalists
Security forces used tear gas to disperse a group of journalists who had gathered around the residence of opposition leader Agbéyomé Kodjo (see under Association) to report on his pending arrest, said the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA). A police officer reportedly said before resorting to tear gas: 'Gentlemen, you are not invited to the party this morning. Look for another place and clear off the scene.' Journalist Teko-Ahatefou Aristo of online news site Togo Actualités was briefly detained and taken to the Central Research and Criminal Investigation Services (SCRIC) (see under Association).
Three newspapers suspended
In March 2020, the national media regulator of Togo, the Haute autorité de l’audiovisuelle et de la communication (HAAC), suspended three media outlets. The bi-weekly L’Alternative and the daily Liberté were suspended for two months and 15 days respectively, starting on 23rd March, after a complaint from the French ambassador Marc Vizy who accused the two media outlets of 'serious, unfounded and calamitous' accusations against the French government. The complaint referred to the articles 'Marc Vizy, the Other Enemy of Democracy in Togo', published on 3rd March 2020 in Liberté and 'Francafrique and Support for Dictators, the cunning Franck Paris', published on 20th February 2020 in L'Alternative. The latter article accused France and the Africa advisor to French president Emanuel Macron of supporting dictators on the continent. The HAAC reportedly stated that the two media outlets did not 'respect professional rules, thereby violating the provisions of the Code of Ethics of journalists in Togo'.
The HAAC further suspended the weekly Fraternité for a period of two months, starting on 1st April 2020, for an article published on 25th March 2020 denouncing HAAC's decision to suspend the media outlets L’Alternative and Liberté, calling it 'overzealous'.
Angela Quintal of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said:
"Togolese authorities’ suspension of Fraternité, Liberté and L’Alternative over their coverage critical of French and Togolese authorities is grossly irresponsible given the public health crisis the country is facing. The French ambassador to Togo, Marc Vizy, should withdraw his complaint about the two newspapers and work to encourage support for press freedom, not opposition to it.”