Reporters Without Borders today condemned the closure of three radio stations and a TV station for one month for "inciting civil disobedience and revolt," which was announced on the evening of 11 February just hours after officials forcibly closed and sealed the premises of all four privately-owned media citing "tax reasons."
"Instead of dialogue, President Faure Gnassimbé’s government has preferred to use repression in order to silence headstrong media," the press freedom organization said. "We are very disappointed at this manoeuvring by the authorities, who first spoke of tax problems before closing these media arbitrarily because of their programme content."
Reporters Without Borders said it was regrettable that the High Council for Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC), which is supposed to monitor and protect the media, had assisted in this political manoeuvre. "If the Togolese government refuses to let the media relay any other viewpoint than its own, we can only express mounting anxiety."
Radio Nana FM, Radio Nostalgie, Radio Kanal FM and TV7 were closed as a result of an order issued by the Lomé lower court in response to a request by HAAC president Georges Agbodjan. The court order said the decision was taken "because of the emergency and exceptional circumstances," referring to the unrest in Togo since President Gnassingbé Eyadéma’s death on 5 February and the subsequent takeover by his son, Faure Eyadéma.
The HAAC request accused the four stations of continuing to broadcast communiques appealing to the public to take part in demonstrations "despite formal notices that they should not contribute to the calls for civil disobedience, violence and racial hate." It also accused them of "providing media coverage of these illegal demonstrations" and of broadcasting news that causes "a breach of the peace."
A few hours before the court order was issued, a bailiff had gone and closed the premises of all four media on the alleged grounds that they were overdue with payments of installation and operational taxes for amounts ranging from 1,250,000 to 4,000,000 CFA francs (1,893 to 6,058 euros).
Nana FM manager Peter Dogbé told Reporters Without Borders he had paid 1,450,000 CFA francs (2,196 euros) by cheque for 2004 and had made a down payment of 150,000 CFA francs (227 euros) for 2005 on the afternoon of 11 February. "At around 8:45 p.m., when I was at home, I learned that a bailiff went to the radio station to demand overdue payments for 2001 and 2002. By the time I arrived at the office, the bailiff had already sealed the premises."
The authorities demanded payment of 2,500,000 CFA francs (3,786 euros) in cash from Kanal FM manager Modeste Mesavusu-Ekué. "The situation is the same for everyone, so I don’t understand why we are the only ones who are being made to pay up," he said.
Policemen who were dispatched to Radio Nostalgie on the afternoon of 11 February found a group of listeners who had come to defend the station. The police used tear gas to disperse them and the station was closed later in the evening, after the court order had been issued. Those in charge of TV7 could not be reached, but TV7 has not been broadcasting since the evening of 11 February either.
The Union of Free Radio and TV Stations of Togo (URATEL) is due to meet in the coming days. Local sources said a one-day radio strike may be organised in protest.