Ayi, publication director for the independent daily Nouvel Echo, was arrested and jailed at police headquarters in the capital, Lomé, on charges of “defamation of the president” and “disturbing public order.” Alphonse Nevamé Klu, the paper’s editor-in-chief, was likewise charged but went into hiding to avoid arrest.
The charges against the two journalists stemmed from an August 2 Nouvel Echo article claiming that President Gnassingbé Eyadéma had amassed a US$4.5 billion fortune, and that he is one of the world’s 497 wealthiest people, according to a list published in the American financial magazine Forbes. The article also alleged that Faure Gnassingbé, Eyadéma’s son and a National Assembly member, had control over the fortune and that the riches were “ill-gotten,” the French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
Following the article’s publication, the government informed the journalists that it was lodging a complaint with police against the newspaper. A government statement, meanwhile, verified that Eyadéma had not appeared on Forbes’ list of 497 names. On August 3, the state television channel broadcast the Forbes list, pointing out that no Africans appeared in the document. When contacted by AFP, Interior Minister Sizing Walla said, “The publication of these lies is a way of inciting the population to rebellion.”
Walla also said that when questioned by police before his arrest, Ayi had revealed that Claude Améganvi, a trade unionist and chair of the opposition Workers Party, was the article’s source. Améganvi was arrested by authorities on August 6 and faces the same charges as Ayi. Though Améganvi also edits the trade union newspaper Nyawo, local journalists said his arrest was most likely not related to his journalistic activities.
On September 13, Ayi and Améganvi were convicted and sentenced to four months in prison and a fine of 100,000 CFA francs (US$150) each. Klu was sentenced in absentia to six months in prison and the same fine.
According to the news Web sites Diastode.org and letogolais.com, in early December, an appeals court extended Ayi and Améganvi’s sentences by two months. Nouvel Echo has not appeared since early August.