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Togo - World Report 2009

53 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index

-  Area: 56,785 sq. km.
-  Population: 6,150,000
-  Language: French
-  Head of state: Faure Gnassingbé, since 2005

The state of press freedom is quite good in Togo, although this is a recent development. The long rule of former president, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, was characterised by constant threats and physical assaults against journalists.

The new government, with the support of the international community, has since 2005 opened a dialogue with the media and the daily lives of journalists have changed for the better with serious violations of press freedom now much less common. The media regulatory body, the High Authority for Broadcast and Communication (HAAC), has been strengthened and the authorities no longer call on the police or the prosecutor to resolve their quarrels with the press. Journalists do sometimes complain that they are under surveillance and even repressed by those who are nostalgic about the dictatorship. For some, self-censorship remains a survival reflex but nothing comparable with what went before.

At the height of the despotic regime of the general-president, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, all criticism of the regime was treated as a crime of state. Unfair arrests, abusive bans and death threats were the daily lot of Togolese journalists. Correspondents for foreign media were particularly targeted. One of them, Léopold Ayivi, was shot dead in 1993 and another, Franck Ekon, was forced into exile in 2002. More than a dozen journalists were victims of repression and imprisoned by the doyen of African presidents in the final years of the regime. Moreover, every year police seized and confiscated or destroyed thousands of copies of privately owned newspapers. Togo, under EU pressure, decriminalised breaches of press laws but the government remained touchy and had no hesitation in punishing disrespectful journalists.

The death of the patriarch on 5 February 2005 after 38 years in power was followed by a period of serious political upheaval. With the support of the army, his son Faure was elected in a poll marked by street violence. A crackdown was launched against private radio stations that led the opposition to the military authorities. Journalists did not escape frequent police excesses. Several representatives of the foreign press were attacked by demonstrators hostile to France, galvanised by the government which said they were on the side of the opposition. After this painful transition, the situation improved markedly.

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