“Disproportionate and arbitrary” suspensions of two newspapers in Togo
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on Togo’s media regulator, the High Authority for Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC), to rescind the disproportionate and arbitrary suspensions of two publications that it has ordered in the past month.
The latest victim is La Symphonie, a bimonthly that has been banned from publishing for two months. The HAAC ordered the suspension on 3 November after La Symphonie published an article defending The Guardian, a weekly suspended since 12 October.
La Symphonie editor Yves Galley was accused of making “gratuitous insults against the HAAC’s president and members” in the article, which – according to Galley – simply aimed to “analyse the legal shortcomings” of the decision to suspend The Guardian.
When reached by RSF, Galley said there was a “major discrepancy” between what he was alleged to have done and the sanction imposed. “If someone was insulted, the law says the punishment should be a fine,” he said. “The decision was inappropriate and, furthermore, I was not notified. I learned about it on social media.”
The decision issued by the HAAC on 12 October suspended The Guardian for four months and banned its editor, Ambroise Kpondjo, from practising journalism for the same period because of an article about a school’s students being forced to have Covid vaccinations and because Kpondjo did not respond to a HAAC summons on the grounds that he was not vaccinated.
Kpondjo told RSF that he has filed an appeal with the supreme court’s administrative chamber. Regardless of the vaccination issues involved, anti-Covid measures cannot be used as grounds for depriving Kpondjo of the right to defend himself. The HAAC should have organised a video hearing, as many courts have been doing for more than a year and a half because of the pandemic.
“These draconian, disproportionate and arbitrary sanctions are anything but fair and just regulatory decisions, especially when the regulator acts as judge and party in the same case by punishing a newspaper that criticised one of its rulings,” said Arnaud Froger. the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “We call for these decisions to be overturned. It is time to reinforce the HAAC’s independence in order to establish a regulatory system that is fairer, most independent and more likely to encourage the development of quality journalism in Togo.”
Ever since last year, RSF has been deploring a series of baseless or disproportionate sanctions imposed by the HAAC in response to complaints by influential people. They include the four-month suspension that the HAAC imposed on the biweekly L’Alternative on 4 February following a complaint by the minister of urbanism, housing and land reform.
L’Indépendant Express, a publication run by the journalist Carlos Kétohou, was suspended a few weeks before that by the HAAC, which asked a judge to withdraw its licence over an article about the alleged theft of golden spoons by two government ministers. Kétohou had been illegally detained immediately after the article appeared.
Togo is ranked 71st out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.