Opposition protests turn deadly ahead of elections on 20th December
Interview pour @AFRICA24TV de @BAM_bba, membre de #Tournonslapage sur la crise politique au #Togo alors que se profilent des législatives rejetées par l'opposition et la société civile : https://t.co/4q1C8oCxez #Togodebout— Tournons la Page (@TournonsLaPage) 12 December 2018
Legislative elections are set to take place in Togo on 20th December 2018, amid growing calls by opposition parties, religious groups and civil society organisations to halt or delay the elections until constitutional and institutional reforms are implemented. The coalition of 14 opposition parties - referred to as C-14 - who have been protesting since August 2017 to demand constitutional reforms, which include a two-term limit for presidents - announced on 26th November 2018 that they will boycott the elections. C-14 claim there have been irregularities during preparations and they are demanding the re-composition of the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI).
As reported previously on the Monitor, Togo has been engulfed in a political crisis since 19th August 2017, when several people were killed during opposition protests which called for the return to the 1992 Constitution. Civic space violations that have taken place since August 2017 including the arrest and detention of HRDs, disruption of access to the internet and social media, and protest bans.
At least four people have been killed in protest-related violence since 8 Dec in #Togo, including a 12-year-old boy who was shot in the head. We urge the authorities to properly investigate and sanction all those responsible for those deaths. https://t.co/ALg0KUGUaq— Amnesty West & Central Africa (@AmnestyWARO) 13 December 2018
In the run-up to the general elections on 20th December 2018, the coalition of 14 opposition parties organised several protests. On 29th November 2018, thousands descended on the streets of Togo's main cities, including Lomé, Sokodé, Kpalimé and Atakpamé, to denounce what they called irregularities in the electoral process, and to demand the departure of incumbent president Faure Gnassingbé. On 1st December 2018, clashes were reported during new opposition protests, which resulted in several people injured.
On 5th December 2018, Minister of Territorial Administration Payadowa Boukpessi banned all protests in the streets during the electoral period because of a "very high risk of severe disturbance of public order". Despite the general ban issued by authorities, subsequent opposition protests went ahead in Togo's capital Lomé and in other cities throughout the country. At least 4 people were killed during protest-related violence between 8th and 10th December 2018.
During protests on 8th December 2018, at least two people died in Lomé, one as a result of a gunshot wound, according to a statement by the authorities. The opposition claimed that a third person had died. The authorities also said that four police officers were wounded and that 28 protesters had been arrested. The casualties include a child who was killed in the Agoè neighboorhood of Lomé.
More protests followed, with further casualties reported. On 10th December 2018, two people were reported to have been killed in Sokodé. Clashes between protesters and security forces were reported, while media reports also reported the use of tear gas to disperse protesters, and the burning of tyres by protesters.
The Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (West African Human Rights Defenders Network; ROADDH) and the Coalition Togolaise des Défenseurs Droits Humains (Togolese Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, CTDDH) said in a statement that at least six people had died since 8th December 2018, several people had been injured and that a wave of arrests had taken place. According to the two human rights organisations, 34 people who were arrested in connection with the protests appeared in front of judges with several given custodial sentences, in some cases without their lawyers present. Evelyne Petrus Barry of Amnesty International commented:
"Even after a child was killed, Togo’s authorities continue to fuel the violence by deploying military officers carrying firearms to protest sites, which risks exacerbating an already tense situation."
Civil society actions
In a press conference, the Mouvement des Forces Vives Espérances, a broad grouping of civil society and religious organisations, including the Front Citoyen Togo Debout, said that the situation was "unacceptable". They also announced a series of peaceful actions, including a citizen rally for resistance on 16th December 2018. Abra Aïcha Atchana of the Mouvement said:
"We call on all Togolese citizens who are truly seeking peace to enter into resistance against this regime because they want to hold elections without (...) having carried out the constitutional, institutional and electoral reforms." (translated from French)
On 14th December, the Minister of Territorial Administration banned the protest for the 16th on the grounds that the organisers had not declared the protest 5 days in advance, as required by Law 2011-010 of 16th May 2011. Spokesperson for the Mouvement Reverend Father Pierre Marie Chanel Affognon commented to RFI:
"...it is up to those who know the law to see if we are really at fault or if it is the government that is at fault. We respect the authorities. We are not a political movement, a movement of irresponsible people who want anarchy or want to create a violent revolution. We, we will respect but if they continue like this, they create, in the heart of Togolese, so much frustration that at some point, there will be violent protests, without request for permission and that is what we wanted to avoid." (translated from French)
On 10th December, civil society movement Front citoyen Togo debout (FCTB) organised a spontaneous sit-in in front of the offices of the United Nations in Lomé to raise awareness of the tense political situation in Togo. According to Abra Aicha Atchana, speaking on behalf of FCTB, 'the ECOWAS shines with its silence, which looks like complicity or at least compromise'.
Previously, on 3rd November 2018, thousands gathered in Lomé on the initiative of FCTB to demand the release of all people arrested during protests. According to the organisers, around 50 people remain in prison. As reported previously on the Monitor, FCTB recently organised a campaign and a protest to demand the release of HRDs and other 'political prisoners'.
On 7th December 2018, Togo's National Assembly approved a law on cyber security, which restricts freedom of expression, said Amnesty International. The law provides for prison sentences for those publishing false information, breaching public morality and producing, diffusing or sharing data which undermine “order, public security or breach human dignity". The law also includes vague provisions related to terrorism and treason, which can lead to prison sentences of up to 20 years. In addition, more power is given to police, including for surveillance of communication and IT equipment, said the human rights NGO.