The safety of journalists in Togo has been worsening over the last six months following a worrying phenomenon of consistent attacks, harassment and other forms of rights violations against journalists in the country. The rights violations, mainly perpetrated by the country’s paramilitary force, the Gendarmerie, have been in the form of physical assault, threats of arrest and kidnapping.
On January 16, 2014 for example, Aného Assiongbon Ayité, a journalist with privately-owned radio station, Océan FM, based in Aného, a community 45 kilometers from the capital, Lome, was arrested and held at the offices of the Gendarmerie for several hours before being released. He was arrested while covering the seizure of what was said to be illegal fuel by the gendarmes.
Around the same period, Kossi Themanou, a journalist with the bi-monthly Focus Info, was beaten by a group of gendarmes in central Lome, when he attempted to take a photograph of the officers while they were seizing gallons of what was said to be adulterated fuel.
According to MFWA’s correspondent, even though Themanou showed the gendarmes his press card, they kicked him from all directions, hit him with the butt of their guns and whipped him with cords. They subsequently took him to offices of the Gendarmerie, where he was subjected to further beatings and threatened with death.
Themanou’s voice recorder was seized, and pictures he took were deleted from his camera before being released hours later. He was admitted at a private clinic in Lomé where he was given medical care.
The cases of Ayité and Thémanou add up to an already long list of violations against journalists in the country within the last six months.
On August 31, 2013, two journalists, Emmanuel Vitus Agbenonwossi and Roger Adzafo of Togoportail.net and Africatopsport newspaper respectively, were kidnapped for six days by heavily armed unknown men suspected to be gendarmes.
The two journalists had gone to the University of Lome following a phone call Adzafo had received asking him to come to the university campus for some information. On arrival, a Toyota Land Cruiser pulled up and the two were forced into the car.
Agbenonwossi and Adzafo were taken to an unknown place and were later taken to meet with some police officers who accused them of “violating the honour of government.” They were subsequently released and warned not to report the kidnapping or police interrogation to anyone or pay with their lives.
The two journalists continued to receive death threats for weeks. Currently, Agbenowossi’s whereabouts is unknown.
Felix Nahm-Tougli, a journalist with privately-owned Radio Legende has also not been seen or heard of by family members since December 17, 2013. Nahm’s predicament followed an interview on his radio station with Poko Amah, a former senior officer of the Togolese Police force, on May 22, 2013.
In the said interview, the former police officer reportedly said, “just as it happened in 1966, the Togolese Armed Forces must live up to their responsibility and play the role of referee so as to compel the Head of State to dialogue with the opposition”.
According to the MFWA’s correspondent, the statement was interpreted by the country’s security forces as constituting a call for insurgency by the army. Nahm subsequently received a series of threats and has not been seen again since December 17, 2013.
The MFWA is deeply concerned about the worsening media freedom situation and the deterioration of safety conditions for journalists in Togo. We urge the ECOWAS, civil society groups and the international community to put pressure on the Togolese government to improve press freedom in the country. We particularly call on the country’s Security and Civil Protection Minister, Colonel Damehane Yark, to recognize the importance of press freedom to Togo’s democratic efforts and work towards providing great safety for journalists in the country.