Reporters Without Borders today urged Togo’s presidential candidates to appeal to their supporters not to use violence against journalists after a crew with the state-owned television station TVT was attacked and threatened during a rally by the opposition Union of Forces for Change (UFC) on 26 March to demand the postponement of the 24 April presidential election.
"The violence against the TVT crew is all the more worrying as it comes amid a series of threats against journalists accused of bias in an extremely tense political context," the press freedom organization said.
"Attacks against the press are often a harbinger of greater violence to come, so we solemnly call on all 4 presidential candidates, regardless of their political sensibilities, to make a public appeal to their supporters not to attack the press," Reporters Without Borders said, adding that "such an initiative seems essential in order to ensure a calm election campaign."
When the TVT crew arrived in a vehicle bearing the station’s logo at the site of the UFC rally in the Lomé district of Bê-Château on the morning of 26 March, reporter Bangna Kondor, cameraman Gilles Obnassé and soundman Adjété Sossou were accosted and insulted by a group of youths who told them they could not stay to cover the demonstration.
The crew consulted the UFC head of security, Evans Welbeck, who assured them they could stay and do their work. But half way through the rally, the crew was physically attacked by a group of "over-excited youths" who broke the rear window of their vehicle and threatened to kill them. At this point the UFC stewards suggested they had better leave in view of the crowd’s mood.
Reached yesterday by Reporters Without Borders, UFC secretary-general Jean-Pierre Fabre said his party "completely disassociates itself from this violence" and has adopted "measures to ensure that such incidents are not repeated."
The attack comes in an increasingly alarming climate of intimidation for many journalists who are accused of being either the stooges of the ruling Rally for the Togolese People (RPT) or opposition spokesmen. In addition to TVT journalists, accused by the opposition of bias, some foreign correspondents - especially those who are white, who are usually assumed rightly or wrongly to be French - have been the target of verbal attacks in recent weeks by demonstrators critical of France’s policies towards Togo.
Privately-owned radio and TV stations became the targets of censorship in February when President Gnassingbé Eyadéma died and his son, Faure Gnassingbé, seized power setting off a political crisis. A total of seven radio stations and two TV station were closed on various pretexts ranging from "inciting revolt" to "tax reasons." All have since been allowed to reopen.