Press Freedom in Togo Still Has Not Improved Under Faure Gnassingbé

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Faure with the Obamas

Like many countries in Africa, Togo is a nation which offers freedom of press as a provision in the constitution. Article 26 of Togo’s constitution states:

Freedom of the press shall be recognised and guaranteed by the state and protected by law. Every person shall have the freedom to express and to disseminate his opinions and information by spoken, written and other means, within limits defined by law. It shall not be possible to submit the press to preliminary authority, to bail, to ensure or to other impediments. Only a judicial decision can prevent the circulation of a publication.

In practice, however, journalism in Togo is heavily restricted. In 2003, Togo was ranked as one of the worst places in the world to be a journalist. Ten years later, in 2013, the government of Togo fired rubber bullets and teargas at journalists who were protesting new censorship authority granted to the government media regulator. Sylvio Combey, president of a local press freedom group who participated in the sit-in, complained: “We were not armed, yet the police were shooting directly at us in a deliberate attempt to injure us.” The proposed measure which the journalists were protesting did not pass, but no one was held accountable for the attack on the journalists which left some of them seriously injured.

According to Amnesty International’s report of Togo:

The authorities continued to curtail the right to freedom of expression. They arbitrarily closed media outlets and arrested community and opposition leaders for expressing dissent. They cut off the internet to prevent activists and journalists from reporting violations.

Amnesty International also provided some examples of specific abuses, which I will quote at length:

The authorities continued to curtail the right to freedom of expression. They arbitrarily closed media outlets and arrested community and opposition leaders for expressing dissent. They cut off the internet to prevent activists and journalists from reporting violations.

On 6 February, the High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC) withdrew the frequencies of radio station CityFM and TV station La Chaîne du Futur for breaching licensing rules. The HAAC statute did not provide any mechanism to appeal against the decision.4

On 7 February, journalist Robert Kossi Avotor was beaten with batons and handcuffed by gendarmes to prevent him from photographing an eviction in Lomé. He was detained and his photographs deleted, before being released on the same day without charge. He filed a complaint with the prosecution services in Lomé to which he said he had received no response by the end of the year. On 22 February, the General Prosecutor issued a warning that anyone who reported on the attack on Robert Kossi Avotor would risk criminal prosecution for “disseminating false news”.

Kombate Garimbité, a member of the opposition Alliance of Democrats for Integral Development (ADDI), was arrested on 4 April after he criticized a call made by the chief of the Yembour locality for students’ relatives to pay for damages caused during a protest in March. The authorities accused him of organizing the March protest and he was charged with aggravated disturbance of public order. He claimed that he was not involved in the protests and was in Lomé, 630km away from Yembour, at the time. By the end of the year, he remained in detention without trial.

Salomée T. Abalodo was arrested by gendarmes in Pagouda, a town in the Kara region, on 13 April after she took pictures of wounded protesters and asked local authorities to stop security forces using excessive force against peaceful demonstrators. She was charged with “rebellion” and “participation in an unauthorized protest”. She was released on 12 May when the Tribunal of Pagouda dropped the charges

The authorities shut down the internet for nine days in September amid opposition-led protests, disrupting the organization of the protest and impeding the work of human rights defenders and journalists who were monitoring the protests.

Togo First reported that “no journalists were killed or arrested, according to RSF’s barometer.” In other words, it is an accomplishment for Togo that the Reporter Sans Frontière (Reporters Without Borders) reported that no journalists were killed or arrested for the year. This is how bad the situation is for journalists in Togo. That report from Togo First was in April of this year. By May, RSF was urging the authorities of Togo to investigate an attack on Loïc Lawson’s car after he published a story about a questionable real estate acquisition involving a minister. Lawson complained that he received threats relating to the article prior to the attack. So despite the Togo’s governments attempt to make it appear that press freedoms in Togo are improving, the reality is that journalists are still at risk in Togo and those who target journalists still remain free to do so with impunity.


Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook and Twitter.

Dwayne Wong (Omowale) is a Guyanese born Pan-Africanist, author, and law student.

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