President Gnassingbé Eyadéma and his government continued to target the independent and opposition press. Two journalists were the victims of ill-treatment while detained. The state-owned press was still strictly controlled by the authorities.
Returned to office with 57 per cent of the vote in the first round of the June 2003 election, Gnassingbé Eyadéma is sub-Saharan Africa’s longest-serving president, but his relations with his country’s press continued to be fraught. He did not hesitate to summon journalists to his office to lecture them. Journalists for their part did not hesitate to publish scathing reports about his family, sometimes at the expense of professional ethics.
The state-owned media openly favoured Eyadéma during the May election campaign, giving the ruling party most of the air time and pruning some of the opposition’s campaign messages.
The authorities continued to scold international human rights organisations. Responding to an Amnesty International report condemning the government’s attitude toward the independent press, communication minister Pitang Tchalla said in April: "Amnesty International should... legally register as a political party. Then the Togolese, like the public abroad which is already tired of these inventions, would know they are dealing with the Amnesty International political party in Togo." The minister had made similar remarks to Reporters Without Borders a few weeks earlier.
The only positive development in 2003 was the resumption of local FM retransmission of Radio France Internationale (RFI) in February after an interruption of five months. Without any official explanation, jamming of the RFI signal had begun in September 2002 as the station was about to broadcast an interview with a former prime minister who had joined the opposition.
Three journalists imprisoned
Dimas Dzikodo, the editor of the weekly L’Evénement, was detained by police on 14 June 2003 in an Internet café while scanning and archiving photographs of people bearing the marks of blows. Colombo Kpakpabia, a journalist with Nouvel Echo, was arrested in the same café as he was transmitting similar photos to an online news site based abroad. The next day, L’Evénement managing editor Philip Evégnon was detained for allegedly assigning this task to his editor.
The three journalists were held for 10 days at national police headquarters in Lomé, during which time Dzikodo and Kpakpabia were roughed up during heavy-handed interrogation sessions. The police accused them of publishing false news, in particular, of circulating photos of road accident victims on the Internet while portraying them as the victims of police ill-treatment. On 24 June, they were formally charged by the state prosecutor with "disseminating false news and disturbing the peace" and were transferred to Lomé prison.
The Lomé criminal court on 22 July dismissed the charges against Evégnon and Kpakpabia, but sentenced Dzikodo to a fine of 500,000 CFA francs (about 760 euros) for "attempting to publish false news." Evégnon and Kpakpabia were released on 23 July while Dzikodo was released the next day after paying the fine. Thereafter, Dzikodo continued to be the target of harassment and intimidation. He received death threats in telephone calls on several occasions in September and his family advised him to limit his movements.
Two journalists freed in 2003
Julien Ayi, the publisher of the weekly Nouvel Echo, was released on 8 February 2003 on completing a six-month sentence. He was originally sentenced on 13 September 2002 to four months in prison for "affront to the honour" of President Eyadéma in an article reporting that the US magazine Forbes had estimated his personal fortune at $4.5 billion. In the same article, Le Nouvel Echo had accused Eyadéma of trafficking in foreign currencies. A few days later after the article appeared, Forbes denied mentioning the Togolese president in any of its reports. The appeal court had increased the sentence to six months in prison in December 2002.
Sylvestre Djahlin Nicoué, the publisher of the weekly Le Courrier du Citoyen, was released on 7 May after being held for more than four months in Lomé prison without being tried. He was detained and placed in police custody on 26 December 2002 for "inciting citizens to take up arms against the authority of the state." That day his newspaper had carried an editorial headlined "Prevent Eyadéma from governing" which warned "those who tyrannise our people that there will be an almighty revolt in 2003 if nothing is done to open the floodgates of freedom and take clear, tangible steps to create the conditions in which alternative governments can be elected." The editorial added that "everything must be envisaged... even the supreme sacrifice" in order to achieve change.
Three journalists detained
Lucien Djossou Messan, the managing editor of the weekly Le Combat du Peuple, was briefly detained on 14 July 2003 in Lomé because the national police director accused him of libelling the police in an article that day claiming that detained fellow journalists Dimas Dzikodo, Philip Evégnon and Colombo Kpakpabia (see above) were tortured while held at police headquarters.
The publisher of the weekly Motion d’Information, Carlos Kétohou, and its distributor, known simply as Séba, were detained by armed civilians claiming to be gendarmes on the night of 17 August and were interrogated about an article referring to the health of one of President Eyadéma’s sons. Kétohou was detained again in the company of his editor 10 days later after they erroneously reported that the president’s daughter, Tchitchidè Gnassingbé, had been killed in a road accident. The were held for several hours before being released. The newspaper published a correction on 1 September.
Harassment and obstruction
Privately-owned radio Tropik FM was shut down on 28 February because government critics were speaking out on a programme called "Political and civic forum." Station manager Albert Biki Tchékin was called to the president’s residence and was accused by Eyadéma of letting the opposition insult his government. The High Authority for Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC) allowed the station to go back on the air on 15 March subject to "measures to avoid any future excess of the kind that occasioned this sanction." Tchékin reluctantly agreed to modify the programme’s format. "This is tantamount to censorship," he said. "But we’re going to see how to change it in such a way that people can continue expressing their views."
The ministry of communication’s press attaché informed all foreign press correspondents (including those working for RFI, AFP, Reuters and the BBC) on 26 March that they were banned from working "until further notice" because all of them, except Africa N°1, had failed to cover the 24 March opening in Lomé of a forum on elections in Africa. The foreign correspondents replied that they had not found the opening sufficiently interesting and were waiting for the conclusions and any final resolutions. A few days later, the minister told them the ban had been lifted.
The communication ministry refused to issue accreditation at the end of May to René-Jacques Lique, the managing editor of the magazine Afrique Express, so that he could cover the 1 June presidential election. The ministry claimed that the request had arrived too late.