The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about increased restrictions on press freedom in Togo ahead of presidential elections, which are scheduled for June. We are particularly alarmed by last week's closure of private radio station Tropik FM, based in the capital, Lomé.
On Friday, February 28, the High Authority for Audio-visual Communications (HAAC), Togo's official media regulatory body, ordered Tropik FM closed indefinitely. Station director Albert Biki Tchékin said that on February 27, Your Excellency called him into your office to face accusations made by some of your subordinates that Tropik FM was allowing the opposition to insult the ruling regime on the air.
According to Tchékin, the accusations stem from the station's weekly program "Civic and Political Forum," which includes debates on social and political issues, as well as comments from callers. The February 22 edition of the show featured a debate on the upcoming presidential elections, during which guests and audience members questioned your apparent intention to run for a third term in office, a right granted to you in December when the Parliament voted to allow you to stand for another term.
When contacted by CPJ, Tchékin denied that the station's programming was biased, saying that "Civil and Political Forum" provides both pro-government and opposition viewpoints. Tropik FM is currently in negotiations with the government to reopen the station.
This is not the first time that Togolese authorities have censored radio stations for airing criticism of Your Excellency's rule. On January 30, police closed the offices of the private Nana FM, only to reopen them later that evening. This harassment came after Nana FM had broadcast earlier that week a discussion between a youth group supporting the opposition and another aligned with the ruling Rassemblement de Peuple Togolais (RPT) about your government and your possible run for a third term, local sources said.
On February 7, 2002, the government closed the private Radio Victoire. Though officials claimed that that the broadcaster was closed because its license had expired, local sources believe the station was shuttered for its programming, which frequently criticized the RPT. A few months earlier, in November 2001, the HAAC had banned two Radio Victoire news programs that it considered "controversial" and "defamatory." The broadcaster remains off the air.
CPJ has written Your Excellency on several occasions about official repression of the press. In August 2002, we voiced alarm about a new amendment that increased prison sentences for violating Togo's already harsh press laws. That, along with repeated government censorship of the private press, has made Togo one of the most repressive media environments in West Africa. Tropik FM's closure and the harassment of Nana FM are further evidence of your government's willingness to silence critical voices.
We call on you to do everything in your power to see that Tropik FM is allowed to resume broadcasting immediately. We also urge you to take steps to repeal Togo's restrictive press code, and to ensure that the Togolese media are able to operate freely, without fear of reprisal.
We thank you for your attention in this matter. We await your reply.