April 16, 2002
President Gnassingbé Eyadéma
C/o Embassy of the Togolese Republic
2208 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington D.C. 20008
Via facsimile: (202) 232-3190
In May 2000, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) wrote to you expressing concern that Togo’s harsh new Press Code would greatly inhibit the flow of information in your country. A spate of recent press freedom abuses has confirmed our fears.
Since the law was passed in January 2000, officials have regularly seized newspaper print runs, harassed and jailed journalists, and closed media outlets whose coverage displeased the government. This crackdown has taken place amid widespread allegations of human rights abuses by Your Excellency’s regime.
CPJ has documented more than 10 newspaper seizures since the government adopted the Press Code, which gives the interior minister the power to confiscate any publication he deems “a disturbance to public order.”
Today, police confiscated copies of the weekly Le Regard that contained a statement by a National Assembly member from Your Excellency’s ruling Rassemblement du Peuple Togolais (RPT) who called for internal reforms within the RPT.
This is the fourth time in the last year that police have seized copies of Le Regard. On April 9, police confiscated nearly the entire print run because of an article about Prime Minister Agbeyome Kodjo’s recent appearance at a conference in Geneva sponsored by the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
The author of the piece argued that the commission voted to halt investigations into human rights abuses in Togo because most of the states that participated in the vote were themselves human rights violators.
On April 4, police seized about 2,000 copies of La Tribune du Peuple from newsstands. The police acted on orders from Interior Minister Sizing Walla, who accused the pro-opposition weekly of publishing “offensive comments” after an article in that week’s edition reported that two Togolese Armed Forces agents had assaulted a mechanic who was suspected of theft, local sources say.
Police again confiscated copies of La Tribune du Peuple the following week.
On April 8, police seized most copies of the weekly Motion d’Information from newsstands after an article in the paper alleged that a dozen student activists with close ties to the opposition had evaded arrest, the African news agency PANAPRESS reported.
Togolese journalists also face official intimidation and arbitrary arrest. Le Combat du Peuple editor Lucien Messan, who spent nearly five months in jail last year on spurious fraud charges, recently received death threats after he reported that Defense Minister Assani Tidjani had asked him to reveal his sources for a previous article.
Meanwhile, Kodjo Afatsao Siliadin, editor of La Tribune du Peuple, and Abass Derman Mikaila, editor of Le Regard, both went into hiding to avoid arrest after their papers were seized.
These incidents followed the closure of the private station Radio Victoire. On February 7, Interior Ministry agents seized Radio Victoire’s broadcasting equipment, forcing it off the air. Officials claimed that the reason for the closure was that Radio Victoire’s temporary license had expired. However, informed local sources believe that the real reason was the station’s programming, which was frequently critical of the government.
In November 2001, the High Authority for Audio-Visual Communications (HAAC), Togo’s official media regulatory body, banned two Radio Victoire news programs that it considered “controversial” and “defamatory [of authorities].” Local sources suspect that the station’s closure resulted from official discontent with Radio Victoire’s news and phone-in programs, during which callers often denounced the RPT.
These and other incidents documented by CPJ demonstrate that Togo has one of the most repressive climates for journalists in Africa. Press Code provisions that allow authorities to censor publications and broadcasts containing “offensive” or “controversial” content clearly violate the right of press freedom, which is specifically guaranteed by Togo’s Constitution.
We therefore urge you to do everything within your power to repeal the Press Code of 2000, to stop censoring independent news organizations, and to allow Togolese journalists to practice their profession without fear of reprisal.
Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your reply.