The Togolese authorities and especially the state president are highly sensitive to criticism in the local press. On 1 January 2002 General Gnassingbé Eyadéma was on Reporters Without Borders’ list of predators of press freedom in the world. Many journalists have been victims of repression by the oldest president on the African continent. Once again, in 2001 four journalists were detained and one of them spent five months in Lomé civilian jail.
Like every year, thousands of copies of privately-owned newspapers were seized and confiscated or destroyed by police. These measures were facilitated by a new press code authorising the minister of the interior and of security "to order the seizure of copies of any publication of which the content constitutes a press MFfTNU17tyHFOZoanHGIM7iCDgtXSfC6tain titles is threatened by these repeated seizures, to such an extent that in April the UJIT (Togolese union of independent journalists) asked the HAAC, the broadcasting and communication regulatory authority, to "play its part fully" as guarantor of freedom of expression.
At the same time, ATEPP, the Togolese private press publishers association, appealed to its members to "be more responsible" and to "show more rigour in the collection, verification, processing and publication of information".
Four journalists jailed
After receiving a summons, Lucien Messan, managing editor of the privately-owned Le Combat du Peuple, went to the Lomé gendarmerie on 23 May 2001. There he was told that the interior minister had lodged a complaint against him for "forgery and the use of forgeries". The journalist was immediately taken to Lomé civilian jail. He was accused of signing an ATEPP communiqué although he was not the managing editor of his publication. It was his son, Messan S. Junior, who was managing editor of Le Combat du Peuple and thus had the authority to sign ATEPP documents. The communiqué in question denounced statements by Togo’s prime minister to the effect that "publishing managers have unanimously affirmed that there have never been hundreds of deaths in Togo". ATEPP accused the government of "trying to use the private-sector press". On 5 June Lucien Messan was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, six of which were suspended, for "forgery and use of forgeries" by the Lomé court of first instance. On the evening of 28 October the journalist was pardoned by the president. Once out of jail he continued his work and said that "jail has changed nothing". He also criticised his conditions of detention: "There were 1,200 prisoners in a courtyard of 60 by 60 metres. If you haven’t got money you die. It’s terrible. I wasn’t allowed a visit for over a month".
Alphonse Klu, managing editor of Nouvel Echo, went to the interior ministry on 13 October after receiving a summons. He was immediately put into custody at the Lomé gendarmerie and told to divulge his sources in an article stating that a senior government official was hiding "several billion" CFA francs in his cellar. He was released on 30 October, charged with "spreading false news" and authorised to "appear freely" in his trial.
The managing editor and editor-in-chief of the privately-owned weekly Echos d’Afrique, Abdoul-Ganiou Bawa and Rigobert Bassadou, were incarcerated on 29 October in Lomé civilian jail. They were accused of "breach of honour" and "publication of false news". On 26 September the weekly had published a story headed "Fraud at Dankpen: the prefect embezzles 1,130,000 CFA francs". According to Echos d’Afrique, the prefect of that area took bribes for the sale of teak to be used in the renovation of a bridge. The weekly suggested that the anti-corruption commission look into the matter. Rigobert Bassadou was released on 30 October and Abdoul-Ganiou Bawa on 2 November, after the prefect had withdrawn his complaint.
Pressure and obstruction
On 27 March 2001 police seized an undetermined number of copies of the weekly Le Regard from street vendors in Lomé. The weekly’s management said they had recovered none of the 3,500 copies put on sale. General Sizing Walla, who ordered the seizure, accused the weekly of publishing an article headed: "Lomé refuses the European Union’s support for the [October 2001] legislative elections". According to Le Regard, the government was trying to "avoid control by the EU which would no longer be prepared to finance elections that turned into a hold-up". General Sizing Walla reportedly said that "the publication must provide proof" of the information contained in that article.
La Dépêche, a fortnightly close to the government, published an editorial on 18 June headed "Should we be afraid of our judges?". The article took a critical look at the trial of Lucien Messan. The state prosecutor consequently laid charges against Apollinaire Mewenemesse, managing editor of La Dépêche, who went into hiding while the publication apologised to the president and the entire magistracy.
On 2 July the interior minister ordered the seizure of all copies of Le Combat du Peuple. About 30 armed men, some of whom were in plain clothes, went to the printing press where they confiscated all copies that had already been printed, as well as the printing plates. The interior minister explained that the newspaper was about to publish "texts likely to disturb public order". In its columns Le Combat du Peuple affirmed that the authorities had deliberately jailed someone so that he could murder the former minister of human rights, in prison since May 2001.
In October the editorial staff of the privately-owned weekly Motion d’information were worried about telephone calls they kept receiving from persons claiming to be from the interior ministry or the intelligence police, asking for the managing editor to report to the minister’s offices. "Something is busy brewing against our newspaper", said Folivi Ayika, managing editor of Motion d’information, in a letter to Reporters Without Borders. The following week all the copies of the 29 October edition were seized. That edition’s headline news concerned revelations by the anti-corruption commission, implicating President Gnassingbé Eyadéma’s government in misappropriation of over one billion CFA francs (over one and a half million euros). An interior ministry decree ordering the seizure was sent to the editorial staff on 4 November, without any explanation.
On 29 November the HAAC, the broadcasting and communication regulatory authority, ordered the privately-owned radio station Victoire to stop broadcasting the two programmes "Revue de Presse" and "Vice-Versa" until further notice. It justified the decision by the fact that "these controversial programmes cause their hosts to make impassioned and libellous remarks that discredit the constitutional and administrative authorities" of Togo. On the previous day the prime minister had expressed his disapproval to a representative of the radio station, with regard to a news bulletin recounting President Gnassingbé Eyadema’s visit to France, his relations with President Jacques Chirac and the human rights situation in Togo.
On 4 December about 4,000 copies of the weekly Le Regard were seized as they appeared on news stands in the capital. The interior minister, who had ordered the seizure, explained that the weekly had described the national army as "putchist". In the same issue Le Regard had published a testimony by a non-commissioned officer of former prime minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh’s guard, about an attack in 1991 by soldiers of the regular army on the Prime minister’s office.
About fifteen plainclothes policemen occupied the Lomé press centre on 7 December, in search of Augustin Amégah, managing editor of the weekly Le Reporter des temps nouveaux, close to the opposition. No reason was given. The police carried out an identity check and prevented journalists present from leaving the centre for two hours.
President Gnassingbé Eyadéma has been denounced as a predator of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders