Journalists Ferdinand Mensah Ayité and Joël Vignon were released on 31 December 2021 after 22 and 21 days of pre-trial detention, respectively. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) and Tournons La Page recall that they should never have been detained and call for the dropping of all charges against them, as well as against Isidore Kouwonou , journalist, and Fovi Katakou , civil society activist.
The judicial harassment of human rights defenders and those who defend peaceful freedom of expression continues in Togo. Ferdinand Mensah Ayité, editor of the newspaper L'Alternative, a biweekly news and investigative publication committed to exposing corruption and documenting human rights violations in Togo, and Joël Vignon Egah, editor of the newspaper Fraternité, were released from Lomé civil prison and placed under judicial supervision on the evening of December 31, 2021.
On December 9 and 10, 2021, Ferdinand Mensah Ayité and Joël Vignon Egah were respectively arrested for making critical comments about two Togolese ministers during the program "L'autre journal" broadcast on Youtube on November 30, 2021, despite their release, the authorities are still being prosecuted for "criminal authority to authority" (Article 490 of the Togolese Code of Criminal Procedure), "defamation" (Article 290 of the Togolese Penal Code) and "incitement of hatred of the order of" up to two years in prison and 1 million CFA francs (about 1,520 Euros) fine.
Isidore Kouwonou, editor-in-chief of the newspaper L'Alternative and Secretary General of the Union of Independent Journalists of Togo (SYNJIT), has been under judicial supervision since December 10, 2021, because of his participation in the same program as a moderator. He is facing the same charges as Mr. Ayité and Mr. Egah.
Pro-democracy activist Fovi Katakou, a member of Tournons La Page Togo, was also provisionally released under judicial supervision on December 20, 2021, after nine days of arbitrary detention. 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 connection with a Facebook post 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).
The Observatory and Tournons La Page recall that Ferdinand Ayité and the newspaper L'Alternative have already been sentenced in November 2020 to pay a defamation case following the publication of an article revealing massive embezzlement in the Togolese oil sector, and that in early 2021, the newspaper was suspended for four months following new accusations of publishing false information. In addition, Ferdinand Ayité was named as one of those under surveillance using Pegasus spyware.
The Observatory and Tournons La Page denounce the recurrent attacks on fundamental freedoms, particularly the freedoms of expression, assembly and association in Togo. These violations are characterized by repeated attacks and a relentlessness against human rights defenders, civil society activists, as well as journalists, with the aim of silencing any opposing voice.
The Observatory and Tournons La Page welcome the release of Fedinand Ayité, Joël Egah and Fovi Katakou, but recall that they should never have been imprisoned in the first place, as their detention was only intended to prevent them from carrying out their legitimate human rights activities and to punish them for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
The Observatory and Tournons La Page call on the Togolese authorities to drop all legal proceedings against Ferdinand Ayité, Joël Egah, Isidore Kouwonou and Fovi Katakou and to ensure that they can carry out their legitimate human rights activities without hindrance or fear of reprisal.
The Observatory and Tournons La Page also urge the Togolese authorities to guarantee the right to freedom of expression in the country, as enshrined in the Togolese Constitution, as well as in several regional and international human rights protection 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 Togo ratified 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.
Turn the 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).