Repression seemed to the sole response that Togo’s authorities were capable of giving to any attempt to exercise a degree of press freedom. Whether it was the president, the interior minister, the communication minister or the High Authority for Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC), the only measures ever adopted were to restrict freedom of expression in Togo.
Gen. Gnassingbé Eyadéma, the president, does not like criticism. Exasperated by attacks against him in the opposition press, he had the press law amended in the summer of 2002, increasing the prison sentences for insulting the president. In September, he received journalists from the privately-owned media at his home. They asked for the repeal of the new press code, government help for the privately owned press and the creation of a school of journalism at Lomé university. The president agreed to delay implementation of the press code for a year. In return, he asked journalists’ associations to organise seminars on press ethics. No decision was taken on the school of journalism.
The national assembly on 30 December approved a constitutional amendment allowing the president to stand for reelection as many times as he likes.
Since taking over as interior minister in 1999, Gen. Sizing Walla has confiscated around 100,000 copies of different privately-owned newspapers at an estimated cost to their publishers of more than 15 million CFA francs (23,000 euros). This was a sizeable sum for underfunded weeklies with an average circulation of 3,000. The silence of communication minister Bawa Semedo in the face of these repeated seizures was disturbing.
A new communication minister was appointed in a cabinet reshuffle in July. It was Pitang Tchalla, the former head of the state-owned radio and TV broadcaster. After less than two months in office, he caused a stir by proposing a draconian new press law with long prison sentences for insulting the president or other government authorities. It was clearly designed to stifle all criticism of the government.
Four journalists imprisoned
Three journalists were still in prison in Togo at the end of 2002.
Julien Ayi, publisher of the weekly Nouvel Echo, was arrested on 5 August 2002 and placed in Lomé prison on charges of libel and publishing "inaccurate information" for reporting that the US magazine Forbes had estimated President Eyadéma’s personal fortune at $4.5 billion. The interior minister claimed that Ayi revealed that the report was written by Claude Améganvi, general secretary of the opposition Workers Party and editor of Nyawo, a party monthly. Police detained Améganvi the next day and searched for the editor of the weekly Agoo Nami, which had published the same report. A few days later, Forbes denied mentioning the Togolese president in any of its articles. At the same time, a Togolese government opponent living in exile announced that he had written the report, which had been posted on Togolese diaspora websites in July. Ayi and Améganvi were sentenced on 13 September to four months in prison, a fine of 100,000 CFA francs (152 euros) and one franc in symbolic damages for "affront to the honour" of the president. The Nouvel Echo’s editor, Alphonse Névamé Klu, was sentenced in absentia to six months in prison. He had been in hiding ever since a warrant for his arrest was issued after the report came out. The appeal court increased Ayi’s sentence from four to six months on 4 December.
Sylvestre Djahlin Nicoué, publisher of the weekly Le Courrier du citoyen, was detained by police from the headquarters of the investigations department on 26 December as he was leaving the High Authority for Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC), where he had just been asked "to show moderation" in his articles. Alluding to an editorial in the weekly’s latest issue, which had appeared that day, police said he was detained because of "a seditious article calling insidiously for armed revolt." Headlined "Prevent Eyadéma from governing," the editorial warned "those who tyrannise our people that there will be an almighty revolt in 2003 if nothing is done to open the floodgates of freedom and take clear, tangible steps to create the conditions in which alternative governments can be elected." The editorial added that "everything must be envisaged... even the supreme sacrifice" in order to achieve change. Nicoué was charged with "inciting citizens to take up arms against the authority of the state."
Basile Agboh, publisher of the weekly Le Scorpion, and his editor Maurice Atchinou were detained by police in Lomé on 5 June for reporting that Prime Minister Agbéyomé Kodjo confirmed receiving "explicit death threats" from Lt. Col. Ernest Gnassingbé, the president’s eldest son, for supporting a ruling party official critical of the president’s policies. The president’s son denied making any such threat and brought a complaint against the newspaper. Atchinou was released the next day, but Agboh was charged with "affront" and was put in Lomé prison. Eric Johnson, publisher of the satirical newspaper Le Tambour, went into hiding at this time to avoid arrest, because his newspaper had carried a similar report. Prime Minister Kodjo was dismissed at the end of June by the president and immediately fled abroad because he was cited for "mendacious allegations jeopardising the honour of the Chief of State." A court released Agboh provisionally on 16 August, after 70 days in detention.
Two journalists arrested
Augustin Koffi Amégah, publisher of the pro-opposition weekly Le Reporter des Temps Nouveaux, was detained in Lomé on 29 April 2002 by agents of the gendarmerie’s investigative branch because of a report mentioning a senior gendarme’s criticism of the interior ministry’s repeated seizure of newspapers. The report had come out a couple of weeks earlier, and Amégah had published a clarification the following week pointing out that he used the French conditional (meaning he had just heard about the criticism and that it had not been expressed by a gendarme in his presence). He was released the next day after signing a statement.
Kodjo Afatsao Siliadin, publisher of La Tribune du Peuple, was detained in the late afternoon of 5 November by six gendarmes in plain clothes because of a report a month earlier criticising the dispersal of an opposition demonstration by police. They took him to the Lomé gendarmerie and released him several hours later. The next day he appeared before a prosecutor who told him to remain available to the judicial authorities. A complaint was brought against him for "insulting the police." Several journalists at the newspaper had received anonymous threats by telephone after the report came out.
Two journalists threatened
The weekly Le Combat du Peuple reported in its issue of 2 April that its editor, Lucien Messan, had been receiving "explicit" death threats. Messan said he had been getting increasing numbers of phone calls in which he was told be would be killed if he continued to criticise the Togolese armed forces in his articles. The threats came after the weekly carried a report on the armed forces, which had led to his being summoned to the president’s office and interrogated about his sources. In 2001, Messan spent five months in prison after being found guilty of "forgery and use of false documents" in connection with a press release.
Jean-Baptiste Dzilan, editor of the weekly L’Evénement, reported receiving anonymous threats. He said one person in particular kept calling him on his mobile phone to ask if he wanted to live. On 20 November, the entire issue of L’Evénement was seized on the interior ministry’s orders because of an article blaming the failure of the negotiations over the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire on "a culture of authoritarianism and political criminality perfectly embodied in the very long reign of the mediator Eyadéma."
Pressure and obstruction
Interior ministry agents seized transmitter parts from the privately-owned Radio Victoire on 7 February 2002, forcing it off the air, on the grounds that it did not have a proper permit from the High Authority for Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC). Like most other radio stations in Togo, Radio Victoire just had a provisional permit. The HAAC had already ordered Radio Victoire in November 2001 to drop certain programmes in which presenters made "impassioned, defamatory comments discrediting the constitutional and administrative authorities." One of these programmes dealt with human rights violations.
The interior minister ordered the confiscation of the latest issue of the newspaper La Tribune du Peuple on 4 April because of "discourteous comments" in a report about the mistreatment of a blacksmith accused of theft by three members of the armed forces. A further 10,000 copies of the newspaper were seized on 10 April because the publisher had not complied with a summons to appear at the office of the interior minister, Gen. Sizing Walla. The publisher, Kodjo Afatsao Siliadin, had gone into hiding a few days before.
Several hundred copies of the weekly Motion d’Information were seized on 8 April after it had reported that a dozen pro-opposition students had escaped "a wave of arrests" by the investigative branch of the national gendarmerie.
Several thousand copies of the weekly Le Regard were seized on 9 April after it reported Amnesty International’s allegations of massive human rights violations in Togo and said the United Nations Commission on Human Rights took no action because Togo was supported by other countries that were human rights violators. The interior minister ordered further seizures on 16 April after the weekly quoted a senior official of the ruling Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) as calling for renewal within the party. Copies of the Combat du Peuple and Motion d’Information were also seized on 22 April for quoting the same comment.
The latest issue of the pro-opposition Nouvel Echo did not appear on the stands on 19 April because the HAAC had asked its publisher, Alphonse Névamé Klu, the previous day to resign on the grounds that he lacked the "required qualifications." At the same time, the HAAC instructed the newspaper to stop publishing until it had a new publisher who had submitted a copy of his police record to the HAAC.
On 21 August, the government approved a draft law proposed by communication minister Pitang Tchalla that amended the press code and, in particular, lengthened prison sentences for press offences. Article 89 stated that insulting the president was punishable by one to five years of imprisonment (with no possibility of being suspended) and a fine of 1 million to 5 million CFA francs (1,525 to 7,620 euros). A prison sentence of three months to two years was established for insulting the national assembly president, prime minister, parliamentarians, government officials and representatives of government agencies. A new article empowered the interior minister to order "the seizure of copies of any publication... whose content is likely to jeopardise public peace and security." In 1998, Togo had been one of the first countries to begin decriminalizing press offences, but the authorities backtracked two years later and reintroduced prison sentences. The draft law amending the press code was passed unanimously by the national assembly on 3 September 2002. The Togolese Media Watch (OTM) said it was aimed above all at the privately-owned press.
Jamming of the FM relay signal of Radio France Internationale (RFI) in Lomé and the northern city of Kara began on 17 September. There was no official explanation, but sources in the communication ministry said it was because RFI had announced that it was going to carry an interview with the former prime minister, who was dismissed by the president in June. The interview went ahead, but could not be heard in Togo except on short wave. RFI’s broadcasts could still not be heard on its FM frequency at the end of 2002.
The interior minister ordered the seizure of the latest issue, number 199, of the newspaper Motion d’Information on 23 October without notifying the editors. In the following weeks, police went to the printers and confiscated all of the copies of numbers 200, 201 and 202, thereby preventing the weekly for appearing for a month. The publisher was briefly detained by police on 12 November and spent an hour in Lomé prison. He was accused of "denigrating an authority" because of an article criticising the most recent legislative elections.