Freedom of expression suffers another blow as two journalists and one HRD are detained


Two journalists detained for comments made during You Tube broadcast

Journalists Ferdinand Ayité and Joël Egah, editors of the newspapers L'Alternative and La Fraternité respectively, were placed into custody on 10th December 2021 on accusations of insulting authorities, defamation and dissemination of falsehoods in relation to comments both journalists made during a discussion on L'Autre Journal, a current affairs programme run on L'Alternative's You Tube channel. Two days prior to their detention, Ayité and Egah were summoned to the police's Investigation and Intelligence Unit, where they were questioned. According to Reporters without Borders (RSF), the two journalists alleged that two government ministers are linked to cases of misuse of government funds. L'Autre Journal's presenter Isidore Kouwonou was also questioned by the BRI and placed under judicial supervision.

AyitĂ© and Egah were released on 31st December 2021, on their third request for provisional release, but placed under judicial supervision. Both had to hand over their passports, must visit the judge every week and are barred from making comments on the case, conditions RSF calls "unjustified". Press offences were decriminalised in 2004, but the prosecution claims the comments were made on a social network and therefore do not fall under the 2004 law.

The arrest of the two journalists was heavily criticised by civil society actors and press freedom organisations. In a joint statement, human rights organisations West African Human Rights Defenders Network (ROADDH-WAHRDN), African Defenders and others, condemned the arrests, saying:

"These recent arrests have taken place amidst mounting repression against journalists and civil society activists seeking to speak the truth to power. Since president Faure Gnassingbé was re-elected for a fourth term in February 2020, the authorities have increasingly cracked downed on journalists and civil society activists through smear campaigns and legal harassment, in particular. "

Social movement Front Citoyen Togo Debout launched a successful petition against the judicial harassment of the journalists.

As reported previously on the Monitor, authorities have targeted Ferdinand AyitĂ© and L'Alternative repeatedly. In February 2021, the media outlet was suspended for a period of four months on accusations of publishing false information following a complaint by the Minister of Town Planning, Housing and Land Reform. AyitĂ© figured on a list of more than 300 Togolese numbers and potential surveillance targets revealed by an investigation by the Pegasus Project in July 2021 into a massive leak of 50,000 phone numbers and potential surveillance targets targeted by spyware. Previously, L'Alternative was suspended for two months in March 2020 and in November 2020 was sentenced, together with its editor Ferdinand Messan AyitĂ© to fines of two million CFA francs (3,714 USD) each for defamation over an article alleging years of embezzlement in the import of petrol and the fixing of petrol prices. 

Bi-monthly La Symphonie suspended after defending another suspended media outlet

Togo's national media regulator Haute autoritĂ© de l’audiovisuel et de la communication (HAAC) suspended the bi-monthly La Symphonie for a period of two months on 3rd November 2021, less than a month after it suspended media outlet The Guardian. The HAAC accuses the media outlet of "severe violations and professional breaches" in the article "Suspension of The Guardian: Incompetence, formal defects, abuse of power, violation of the fundamental rights of the defendant, the HAAC: force and zeal instituted in law", criticising the procedure leading to the suspension of  The Guardian. The editor of the media outlet Yves Galley was further accused of "making gratuitous insults against the HAAC’s president and members”. Arnaud Froger of Reporters without Borders (RSF) commented

“These draconian, disproportionate and arbitrary sanctions are anything but fair and just regulatory decisions, especially when the regulator acts as judge and party in the same case by punishing a newspaper that criticised one of its rulings,” 

On 9th December 2021, following an appeal by La Symphonie, the administrative chamber of the Supreme Court ruled to annul HAAC's decision, saying that it lacks legal basis. 


Civil society activist detained

On 11th December 2021, police arrested pro-democracy activist and member of Tournons la Page Togo and Front Citoyen Togo Debout Fovi Katakou at his residence in LomĂ©, without a prior summons, detained him at the offices of the Central Research and Investigation Service (SCRIC) and later transferred him to prison. Authorities accuse Katakou, who is physically disabled, of "condoning crimes and offences" and "inciting revolt against the authority of the state" in relation to one of Katakou's Facebook posts in which he commented: "No one is immune from the social control of the GnassingbĂ© clan. Let's get out of the illusion that there is a possible escape. Let's stop thinking that it can only happen to others. No one is safe in this country ...”. 

The activist was provisionally released on 20th December 2021 after spending nine days in detention and was placed under judicial supervision. 

As with the arrest of journalists Ferdinand AyitĂ© and JoĂ«l Egah, civil society actors condemned the arrest of pro-democracy activist Katakou. 

Peaceful Assembly

Civil society meetings banned

A meeting organised by social movement Front Citoyen Togo Debout, planned for 6th November 2021 in Lomé, was prohibited from taking place by local authorities. Authorities said their decision was motivated by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the organisers, the public meeting aimed to "support the President of the Supreme Court in his battle against dishonest magistrates and to demand quality health care for all and denounce the high cost of living". Another citizen meeting planned for 11th December 2021 was likewise banned by local authorities. During a press conference, spokesperson for Togo Debout David Dossèh said that many of Togo Debout's planned assemblies had been banned and they suspect that these bans were motivated by other than public health reasons.