Abuja, Nigeria, November 12, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the president of Togo to block a proposed article in the country’s penal code that would threaten press freedom. Under the proposed law, journalists could face jail sentences and fines for “false news,” according to news reports.
“Laws that seek to criminalize journalism have no place in a democratic country and President Faure Gnassingbé should exercise his authority to ensure that this proposed change to the penal code does not come into effect,” said Peter Nkanga, CPJ’s West Africa representative.
Togo’s parliament passed the new section to the penal code on November 2, according to reports. Article 497 of the law proposes a prison sentence of up to two years and a fine up to 2 million CFA francs (US$3,300) for “the publication, dissemination, or reproduction by any means whatsoever of false news, fabricated parts, falsified or falsely attributed to third parties where, in bad faith, this disturbs the public peace, or is likely to disturb it,” according to news reports.
Noel Tadegnon, a freelance journalist and Reuters correspondent in the capital, Lomé, told CPJ that the law will automatically come into effect if Gnassingbé does not pass it or send it for review to the parliament within 15 days of receiving it. CPJ was unable to determine when the president was sent the law.
The proposed change runs contrary to the Press and Communication Code passed in 2004, under which journalists face fines of up to 2 million CFA francs and news outlets face being suspended for up to three months for press offences, according to news reports.
The new penal code would undermine the High Authority for Audo-Visual and Communications, Togo’s media regulatory agency which has the authority to hold the press to account, and the Observatoire Togolais des Médias, a self-regulatory body that acts as an ombudsman for journalists, according to reports.
Several local press freedom and rights groups condemned the proposed penal code as an attack on press freedom, and called for Article 497 to be removed or amended to prevent the penal code overriding the existing press law and being used against journalists, according to news reports.