Ferdinand Ayité, Togo

International Press Freedom Awards

CPJ is honored to present its 2023 International Press Freedom Award to Togolese journalist Ferdinand Ayité.

Ferdinand Ayité is one of the most targeted journalists in Togo in recent years—facing persistent legal harassment and threats that have forced him into exile. His phone number also appeared on the Pegasus Project list of journalists allegedly selected for potential spyware surveillance.

Ayité leads L’Alternative, one of Togo’s top investigative outlets, known for its fearless coverage of alleged corruption and protests against the rule of President Faure Gnassingbé, whose family has been in power since 1967.

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In 2020 and 2021, authorities twice suspended L’Alternative following stories seen as critical of government officials. The legal harassment prompted a 2020 letter from 38 members of the EU Parliament expressing their “deepest concerns over the judicial harassment” faced by Ayité and his newspaper.

In December 2021, he was jailed for nearly a month after two government ministers complained about a broadcast in which Ayité discussed their alleged corruption and manipulation of the Togolese public. In March 2023, Ayité and L’Alternative’s editor-in-chief Isidore Kouwonou fled the country shortly before a Togolese court found them guilty on insult and false news charges and sentenced them to three years in prison. 

Now in exile, Ayité remains committed to informing the public and maintaining L’Alternative as “a symbol of freedom in Togo.”

Ayité is a member of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and collaborated on the groundbreaking Panama Papers investigation in 2016, focusing on tax avoidance schemes by Indian companies based in Togo.

Honoring Ayité with this year’s IPFA recognizes his commitment to investigating the powerful and holding them accountable while resisting the judiciary’s instrumentalization to censor local journalists. 

The text of Ferdinand Ayité’s acceptance speech, as prepared for delivery, is below.

For the French-language version of the speech as prepared for delivery, click here.

Distinguished guests, ladies, gentlemen, dear colleagues!

When you come from a country like mine, easily classified as one which might arouse little interest internationally, you are always moved to find yourself in such forums. First of all by the prestige of being there; but above all by being aware that your life and safety and those like yourself from the same country and similar locations are recognized and seen at the same level as other journalists from elsewhere.

This is why I shall always be grateful to the Committee to Protect Journalists for all the support they bring to journalists all over the world, including places which might seem remote, isolated, desperate, likely to be easily forgotten or neglected. Coming from Togo, a country in West Africa home to the oldest dictatorship in Africa, I have witnessed the results of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ commitment to a free press around the world. This work must not stop.

Ladies and gentlemen, my conviction is that we should not allow anywhere on this earth islands of lawlessness and dictatorship to flourish because they seem far from us. Like a pandemic or a cancer, it will spread and contaminate other localities and regions.

Having inaugurated coups d’état in Africa from 1963, only three years after its independence, the government of Togo has become today the principal ally of those military regimes, destroyers of freedom which now proliferate in Africa. The regime has transformed the country into a regional stronghold for geopolitical propaganda and manipulation of the masses with Pan-African discourse, whilst stifling any dissent and independent media on its territory.

I would equally like to send a message of solidarity to all those independent journalists in Togo, who work in fairly difficult conditions. My thoughts are at this moment with our colleagues Loic Lawson and Anani Sossou, who are as we speak in detention. May they receive my support.

From this platform, I would like to spare a thought for my editorial team now out of work because the two people in charge, the Editor-in -Chief and myself, the Director, are forced to live in exile, leading to the suspension of the publication.

From here I would also like to pay tribute to the memory of a colleague, brother, and former fellow detainee, Joël Egah. 

He and I were unjustly arrested and thrown into prison towards the end of 2021 under the fallacious pretext of disrespecting the authorities. The latter mobilized the entire state apparatus to destroy us. Months after we were kept in detention together, Joël Egah died very suddenly on 9th of March 2022, under suspicious circumstances. I bow here before his memory and renew my condolences to his family.

I think of all the African journalists who are right now under threat, in particular those in the countries of the Sahel — Mali, Burkina, and Niger — who not only are always under threat from the authorities but also from self-proclaimed groups of patriots who are against all those who do not support the narratives of the ruling military regimes. How could we forget our colleague Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala, for many weeks deprived of his freedom in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They all need our support, in a region where the security situation is worsening day by day. 

I cannot end without my heartfelt thoughts for all the journalists killed since October 7 in the Middle East.

Allow me before I finish, to spare a thought for my wife and my three children, who are still in the country, and continue to be victims of harassment. My thoughts are with them.

All these things we suffer are meant to make us give up. No, we will not give up and we do not have the right to give up. 

Thank you for your attention.