Several protests banned, one person killed in opposition protest
#Togo Fidèle à ses habitudes, le régime de @FEGnassingbe vient d'interdire notre manifestation du 27 avril prétextant que toutes les forces de sécurité seront au défilé militaire ce jour-là.— EN AUCUN CAS (@Bleck99941455) April 25, 2019
Nous avons donc décider de différer notre manif sur le 04 mai.#Afrique #Tginfo @RFI pic.twitter.com/6Zxa8mcFu6
Peaceful assemblies continue to be regularly banned, while restrictions - such as the imposition of routes and/or a heavy presence of security forces - are placed on the rare cases of protests that are authorised by local authorities.
On 23rd April 2019, Minister of Territorial Administration Payadowa Boukpessi banned a protest, organised by the movement En Aucun Cas in Lomé, Kpalimé and Afangnan for 27th April, on the grounds they lacked sufficient security forces for the protest. Nevertheless, the movement called citizens to assemble for the protest, to denounce human rights abuses and the restrictions to the freedom of assembly, association and expression, on 4th May 2019, despite the ban. The protest took place on 4th May without reported incidents.
Other protests that have been banned or prevented in the past few months by local authorities include:
- A protest in Kara against the currency CFA franc, as part of the African Mobilisation Day against the franc CFA, planned for 23rd February 2019, for which no grounds were cited.
- A sit-in, organised by the Ligue des consommateurs du Togo (League of Consumers of Togo) against the high prices of gas, electricity and taxes on vehicles, planned for 29th March 2019 in front of the Ministry of Commerce in Lomé. Authorities justified the ban by saying that public assemblies cannot take place at the Ministry of Commerce, as it is not a public place.
- A protest, planned for 6th April by the Martin Luther King movement to demand the departure of the head of the national football team, after the disqualification of Togo in the 2019 African Cup of Nations.
- A meeting of the political party Le Togo autrement on 25th February 2019. The meeting, organised to engage citizens in Lomé and discuss current issues, was prevented by security forces from taking place. The party says that they had not been notified of the authorities' rationale to ban the meeting.
Protests of the opposition Parti National Panafricain (PNP; National Pan African Party), planned for 13th April 2019 to demand the implementation of constitutional and institutional reforms in line with the ECOWAS roadmap, were banned in 7 of the 10 planned localities across the country. The Minister of Territorial Administration, Payadowa Boukpessi explained his decision to only allow protests in Lomé, Sokodé and Afagnan by saying that 'it is obvious that such a situation can lead to serious disturbances of public order if demonstrations occur in these places, in disregard of the concerns raised by the concerned residents.' On 13th April 2019, several incidents occurred while security forces were reported to have used excessive force against protesters, including in localities where the protest was banned. One person died in Bafilo and several people were injured. Additionally, more than twenty people were arrested and tried, with some of them receiving prison sentences between 24 and 36 months, of which 12 months was suspended.
PNP officials Gueffé Nouridine and Kéziré Azizou were arrested after having been summoned to the Central Intelligence and Criminal Investigation Service on 15th April 2019. They are accused of rebellion, the failure to respect of the ban on protests in certain localities and for not having prevented the disturbance of public order.
Panel Watch, a platform of independent civil society experts to evaluate the status of human rights in Togo, concluded, based on events of the past few months that there is:
"...a regression of freedom of demonstration in Togo, from the point of view of international standards. "
Togo: la HAAC retire le récépissé à un journal privé - https://t.co/7HbkAgWQbX Bonéro Lawson-Betum, featured, Pitalounani Telou président HAAC Togo, retrait récépissé La Nouvelle, Togo HAAC pic.twitter.com/IoM6lB2soW— AFRICA Rendez-vous (@Africardv) March 25, 2019
On 25th March 2019, the national media regulator, the Haute autorité de l’audiovisuel et de la communication (HAAC), announced its decision to revoke the license of owner Bonero Lawson-Betum to publish the monthly La Nouvelle newspaper based on its 'deliberate refusal to respect the fundamental principles of journalism'. The High Court in Lomé previously, on 10th December 2018, authorised the HAAC to revoke the license of Lawson-Betum, based on a request from HAAC. The newspaper is also accused of 'the publication of unverified information', 'launching calls for ethnic and religious hatred, and attacks on the privacy of citizens, as well as slander and insults of all kind'. At the end of 2018, the newspaper was found liable for a libel case by the High Court of Lomé, following a complaint by the president of the Supreme Court, who was accused, in an article by La Nouvelle in September 2018, of involvement in corrupt land deals. La Nouvelle was previously suspended in 2016.
According to Reporters without Borders (RSF), unidentified perpatrators in an unlicensed vehicle vandalised the car of investigative journalist Loïc Lawson outside of the offices of the newspaper Le Flambeau des Démocrates in Lomé. Prior to the attack, Lawson received threats related to one of his articles alleging the involvement of a government official in a questionable acquisition of real estate. Assane Diagne of RSF said:
“In view of the repeated threats against Loïc Lawson, we call on the Togolese authorities to conduct a swift and thorough investigation into this attack in order to identify those responsible and bring them to trial. The safety of investigative journalists must be a priority for Togo’s authorities.”