An aerial view of Lome, Togo, as pictured in 2019. (AFP/Yanick Folly)

Togolese Liberté newspaper suspended for 3 months, continues publishing amid appeal

On October 5, 2022 a court in Lomé suspended the privately owned Liberté newspaper for three months and fined the company and two of its staff members a total of 12 million West African francs (US$17,800) for publishing erroneous information about the prime minister, according to local media reports and the director of Liberté, Médard Amétépé, who spoke to the CPJ on the phone.

Liberté has filed an appeal, which suspends the decision until the appeal ruling, and has continued to publish, Amétépé told CPJ.

The suspension and fine related to Liberté’s September 21 edition, which included an article that alleged a security officer in Togolese Prime Minister Victoire Dogbé’s automotive convoy shot and killed a young man, according to those sources.

According to Amétépé, on September 22, Dogbé’s office informed the High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication, Togo’s media regulator also known by its French acronym HAAC, that the prime minister was not in the area where the incident allegedly occurred. Dogbé’s office then filed a defamation complaint to the HAAC and the regulator asked the newspaper to publish a correction, which the paper did with an apology to Dogbé, Amétépé told CPJ. 

Amétépé said in spite of the correction and the apology, Dogbé’s office filed a separate defamation complaint in court against the author of the article, Géraud Afangnowou, Amétépé, and the newspaper. 

The court considered the correction and apology to be insincere and therefore inadmissible as rectification for damage caused by the September 21 article, according to Amétépé, adding that the court then suspended the outlet for three months and fined each of the three defendants —  Liberté, Amétépé, and Afangnowou — four million West African francs (US$5,928) each.

Reached by CPJ via messaging app, Adolphe Pakka, a communications officer with Dogbé’s office asked CPJ submit a request for comment “the normal way.”  When CPJ asked Pakka to clarify what he meant by “normal way,” he did not answer. 

HAAC spokesperson Diedier Atiota did not respond to an emailed request for comment from CPJ.

Togolese authorities previously suspended Liberté in 2020 in relation to a complaint filed by then French ambassador to Togo, Marc Vizy.