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Togo: Escalating attacks on human rights defenders
Communiqué   modifié le 28-12-2021 10:56 par Tournons la Page

In mid-December, in the space of three days, journalists Ferdinand Mensah Ayité, Joël Vignon Egah, and Isidore Kouwonou and civil society activist Fovi Katakou were arrested for exercising their right to freedom of expression. While Isidore Kouwonou and Fovi Katakou have since been released, Ferdinand Mensah Ayité and Joël Egah are still being held. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) and Tournons La Page condemned the detention of the two journalists and intimates by the Togolese authorities for immediate release.

On December 9, 2021, Ferdinand Mensah Ayité, editor of the newspaper L'Alternative, a biweekly news and investigative publication committed to denouncing corruption and documenting human rights violations in Togo, was held at the Brigade de Recherches et d'Enquêtes (BRI) in Lomé before being arrested and placed under a detention warrant for having made critical remarks about two Togolese government ministers during the program "L'autre journal" broadcast on Youtube on November 30, 2021. During this program, the journalists denounced the injustice that the two journalists declared in Togo, and declared the vaccine pass and corruption in the country.

On December 10, 2021, International Human Rights Day, Joël Vignon Egah, editor of the newspaper Fraternité , and Isidore Kouwonou, editor-in-chief of the newspaper L'Alternative and Secretary General of the Union of Independent Journalists of Togo (SYNJIT), were interviewed on their rounds for their participation in the same program. At the end of these hearings, Isidore Kouwonou, who was the moderator of the program, was placed under judicial supervision and released, while Joel Egah was arrested and placed under arrest warrant.

The three journalists are being prosecuted for "contempt of authority" (Article 490 of the Togolese Code of Criminal Procedure), "defamation" (Article 290 of the Togolese Penal Code) and "inciting hatred of authority. Ferdinand Ay and Joël Eh are currently being held at the BRI premises and could face up to two years in prison and a fine of 1 million CFA francs (approximately 1,520 euros).

The Observatory and Tournons La Page recall that this is not the first time that Ferdinand Ayité has been prosecuted and harassed for his work as a journalist and for the legitimate exercise of his right to freedom of expression. For example, in November 2020, Ferdinand Ayité and the newspaper L'Alternative were fined after being found guilty of defamation following the publication of an article revealing an acknowledged massive embezzlement case in the Togolese oil sector. 

The two organizations also note with concern that this arrest comes five months after Ferdinand's name was listed among those placed under surveillance using the Pegasus spyware.

On December 11, 2021, pro-democracy activist Fovi Katakou, a member of Tournons La Page Togo, was arrested by a heavily armed squad of the national gendarmerie at his home. He was taken to the Central Research and Investigation Service where he was taken into custody and questioned before being transferred to the Lomé Civil Prison on Thursday, December 14, 2021. The gendarmes also seized all the instruments used to serve his activities as well as his telephone. He is accused of "apology of crimes and offenses" (Article 552 of the Togolese Penal Code) and "incitement to revolt against the authority of the State" (Article 495 of the same Code) in relation to a Facebook publication dated December 10, 2021 in which he warned about the problems of insecurity, injustice and lack of infrastructure in Togo. For this he faces up to five years in prison and a fine of 20 million CFA francs (about 30,460 Euros). On the evening of December 20, 2021, Mr. Katakou was placed on parole and remains under judicial supervision.  

The Observatory and Tournons La Page strongly denounce the escalating repression against human rights defenders and people peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression in Togo.

The two organizations urge the Togolese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Ferdinand Ayité and Joël Egah, as their detention appears to be aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights work, and to drop all charges against them as well as against Isidore Kouwonou and Fovi Katakou, and all human rights defenders in the country.

Finally, the Observatory and Tournons La Page call on the Togolese authorities to guarantee the right to freedom of expression in the country, as enshrined in several international human rights instruments, including Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, which were drafted by Togo in 1984 and 1982 respectively.

The Observatory, a partnership between the FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), aims to protect human rights defenders who are victims of violations and to provide them with the most concrete assistance possible. OMCT and FIDH are members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union mechanism for human rights defenders implemented by international civil society.

Tournons La Page is an international movement, bringing together more than 250 African civil society organizations supported by European organizations whose objective is the promotion of democratic change in Africa. The movement carries out peaceful and non-partisan actions. Created in 2014, Tournons La Page includes coalitions in 10 African countries (Burundi, Cameroon, Congo, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Guinea, Niger, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and Togo).