Civil society platform's accreditation to observe the 22nd February presidential elections withdrawn

A woman casts her vote at a polling station during presidential election in Lome, Togo February 22, 2020. REUTERS/Luc Gnago
A woman casts her vote at a polling station during presidential election in Lome, Togo February 22, 2020. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

On 22nd February 2020, presidential elections took place in Togo, which were, according to official results, won by incumbent president Faure Gnassingbé by 72.36 percent, with main opposition leader Agbéyomé Kodjo claiming widespread fraud. 

On the day of the elections, access to messaging services such as WhatsApp, Telegram, and Facebook Messenger appeared to be blocked on two networks on the evening of 22nd February. Prior to the elections, an independent civil society platform saw its accreditation as election observers withdrawn, while foreign staff of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) were expelled from the country. 

Legislative elections, held in December 2018, were largely boycotted by the opposition. In May 2019, constitutional amendments were adopted by Togo's National Assembly, in which the ruling party has a majority, with a two-term limit for presidents. The two-term limit does not however apply retroactively, allowing president Faure Gnassingbé to stand for two more additional terms.

Faure Gnassingbé has been in power since 2005 and starts his fourth term as president of Togo. Before him, his father, Gnassingbé Eyadéma had been in power for 38 years. Mass protests by the opposition and pro-democracy groups that started in August 2017, calling for a return to the 1992 Constitution which sets the limit to presidential terms to two, were repressed.

Association

Accreditation for civil society group to observe elections revoked

On 17th February 2020, Togo's national electoral commission, CENI, cancelled the accreditation of civil society platform Concertation nationale de la société civile (CNSC) to observe the 22nd February 2020 elections. CNSC planned to deploy 500 observers throughout the country. CENI accused the civil society umbrella group of preparing to carry out 'interference' in the electoral process. In addition, three staff members of the US-based National Democratic Institute (NDI), who were in Togo to assist CNSC in their work to observe the elections, were expelled from Togo. 

Previously in January 2020, the Episcopal Council for Justice and Peace (CEJP) of the Catholic Church had its application as election observers rejected. The Minister of Territorial Administration, Payadowa Boukpessi, reportedly said in a letter dated 16th January 2020 that the CEJP lacked neutrality, that the Conference of Bishops of Togo has taken 'clear partisan positions on the political situation that our country has known since August 2017' and that it had not provided information on how the deployment of 9,000 observers would be financed. 

Expression

The access to messaging services such as WhatsApp, Telegram and Facebook Messenger was 'likely blocked' on two networks - Togo Telecom and Atlantique Telecom - on the evening of 22nd February 2020, according to tests carried out by the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), a global platform. Network data from the digital rights CSO NetBlocks also confirmed 'the loss of access to social media platforms via Togo’s leading operator Togo Telecom' from 17:00 in multiple locations when polls closed on 22nd February. 

Peaceful Assembly

Opposition protest dispersed

Following the presidential elections on 22nd February 2020, Archbishop Emeritus Philippe Kpodzro called for a protest in Lomé on 28th February 2020 to denounce the announcement of the election results by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), in support of opposition candidate Agbéyomé Kodjo. On 27th February 2020, the Minister of Territorial Administration said in a statement that the protest was illegal, due to non-adherence to procedures and the Ministry had not received a prior notification. On 28th February 2020, security forces dispersed, including by using tear gas, the protesters who tried to protest despite the ban. A heavy police presence was reported since early on that day at the planned place of the protest. Civil society groups West African Human Rights Defenders Network (ROADDH/ WAHRDN) and the Togolese Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (CTDDH) said in a statement that protesters were chased and some were injured.

Protests banned, itinerary changed

A civil society protest planned for 28th December 2019 to demand the release of those who were arrested during protests, was banned by the Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralisation, Payadowa Boukpéssi. The CSO Action-Sud sent the official notification to authorities. According to the Minister, the organisers failed to appear at the Ministry for a preparatory meeting, and he accused the organisers of having a 'hidden agenda'. On 26th December 2019, activist and leader of the movement En aucun cas Folly Satchivi held a press conference to mobilise people to join the protest. The Minister of Territorial Administration told to Radio France Internationale (RFI): 

"We did not receive a declaration of protest from the association "En aucun cas" and even if we had received this request, the association "En aucun cas" is not even registered with the Ministry of Territorial Administration. And at the press conference that Mr. Satchivi hosted, he said that the object of the demonstration is for political complaints. But that was not the subject of the prior notification that was sent to us." (translated from French)

According to news reportsForces du Consensus Démocratique (FCD; Forces of Democratic Consensus), a coalition of civil society, political parties and citizens, decided to call off their planned public information meetings in Bè Kodjindji and Agoè on 30th January and a protest foreseen on 1st February 2020, so as not to 'comply with the injunctions of the Minister of Territorial Administration'. Their public meetings and protest were organised to demand judicial order, change and transition in the 2020 presidential elections. According to FCD, the Minister of Territorial Administration decided to ban the public meeting in Agoè and changed the itinerary of the protest planned for 1st February 2020.