New York, February 15, 2012–A Togolese journalist says he has been threatened repeatedly after conducting reporting for an as-yet-undisclosed story involving a top government official.
On February 9, Max Savi Carmel, news editor of the private Benin-based bimonthly Tribune d’Afrique, was stopped by gendarmes in Lomé, the capital, and told to follow them to the offices of Intelligence and Investigation Services (SRI), a Togolese security agency, news reports said. Carmel was held for several hours and questioned about his sources and his information on a pending story involving Abass Bonfoh, president of the Togolese National Assembly, the journalist told CPJ. After he was released from custody, Carmel said, he discovered his car had been damaged and ransacked. The journalist said he filed a complaint with the police on Monday.
Carmel told CPJ that Tribune d’Afrique, which had not yet published a story, was not disclosing any details of the pending matter. He said the paper had not yet sought the official’s comments.
Carmel told CPJ that he later received at least two threatening anonymous phone calls and strange visitors came to his home seeking information about him from his family. “I have not slept in my house since this all began. I really fear for my safety and that of my family,” the journalist said.
“It is outrageous that Max Savi Carmel was detained, interrogated, and harassed for hours by the police for simply doing his job,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “We hold Togolese authorities responsible for the safety of Max Savi Carmel and urge authorities in Lomé to investigate the threats against this journalist.”
In a telephone interview with CPJ on Monday, Bonfoh declined to comment, saying, “I cannot speak of this matter over the phone. If you want, you come around, but I will not discuss this over the phone.”
Although Tribune d’Afrique is based in Benin, it is circulated in seven countries in West Africa, including Togo. The magazine’s Togo bureau chief, David Cudjoe Amekudzi, told CPJ that the news outlet was temporarily suspending its publication in the country for fear of its journalists facing reprisal for their reporting.
Tribune d’Afrique has been targeted in the past. In August 2010, a judge ordered a ban on the paper’s distribution in Togo and imposed damages and fines of more than 60 million CFA francs (US$113,000) over a story on the alleged involvement of a presidential adviser in drug trafficking, CPJ research shows. An appeals court judge lifted the ban and fines, ordered the newspaper’s circulation to be suspended for three months, and awarded the plaintiff 10 million CFA francs (US$19,000) in damages, according to news reports.