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Togo6 August 2002

Newspapers confiscated under February 2000 press code

6.08.02 - Newspapers confiscated under February 2000 press code

The latest issues of two weeklies, Agoo Nami and Nouvel Echo, were confiscated on 2 and 3 August respectively on the orders of the Interior Minister, General Marcel Sizing Walla, for allegedly publishing "false statements".

The two newspapers had picked up reports posted on the Internet by a Togolese opposition group based in Brussels stating that President Gnassingbé Eyadéma and his family had been reported by the US news magazine Forbes in its listing of the biggest international fortunes as having a "colossal" fortune" of US$4.5 billion. The weeklies said that this fortune, allegedly hidden in tax havens, would suffice to pay off unpaid salaries and pensions, eliminate the internal debt and relaunch the national economy.

The authorities have indicated that they intend to file suit against the two publications under the new press code adopted on 23 February 2000.

Three newspapers seized for articles on human rights

10.04.02 - Another two newspapers seized

A few days after "La Tribune du peuple", two weekly newspapers were seized for publishing "false statements". On 8 April 2002, several hundred copies of "Motion d’information" were seized for publishing a story saying that a dozen opposition students escaped "a wave of planned arrests". On 9 April, several thousand copies of Regard were confiscated, following an article on massive human rights violations accusations in Togo by Amnesty International. According to the newspaper, the case was dropped at the NATO Commission on Human Rights in Geneva because Togo was supported by other "countries violating human rights".

08.04.2002 - Opposition newspaper seized

In a letter to Interior Minister General Sizing Walla, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières - RSF) protested the seizure of nearly 2,000 copies of the newspaper "La Tribune du Peuple". "Every year in Togo, several thousand copies of private newspapers are seize and confiscated or destroyed by police," said RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard. "In this specific case, we fear the government is using repeated seizures to nip in the bud a two-month-old newspaper that is close to the opposition." RSF has demanded a reform to Press Code provisions that allow the minister of the interior and security "to order the seizure by decree of copies of any publication whose contents constitute a press offence".

According to information collected by RSF, on 4 April 2002, the interior minister ordered the seizure of copies of "La Tribune du Peuple" for "offensive comments". Kodjo Afatsao Siliadin, the newspaper’s editor and author of the article in question, has gone into hiding. The day before, the newspaper criticised the treatment by three agents of the Togo Armed Forces (FAT) of a blacksmith accused of theft.

RSF has also raised fears about death threats repeatedly aimed at Lucien Djossou Messan, news editor of the weekly "Le Combat du Peuple". In its 2 April edition the newspaper said that, "for some time, real and specific death threats" had been made against the editor. RSF recalls that Lucien Messan had been sentenced on 5 June 2001 to twelve months in prison for "falsehoods and use of falsehoods." He was freed in a presidential pardon after five months of imprisonment.

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