Ferdinand Ayité’s efforts to demonstrate his good faith were not enough. The supreme court’s administrative chamber decided on 9 March to confirm the four-month suspension that the High Authority for Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC) imposed a month ago on the newspaper he edits, L’Alternative.
The HAAC ordered the suspension in response to a complaint by the minister of urbanism, housing and land reform, who was described as a “forger” by the newspaper because, it said, he used forged documents when administering the property of the family of a wealthy businessman who recently died.
Ayité responded with long letter detailing both what took place at the hearing at which the HAAC ordered the suspension and all of the newspaper’s research before publishing the article. He told RSF he was not surprised by the decision, which he described as “political.” The suspension was not unanimously supported within the HAAC because one of its own members publicly disowned it, accusing the HAAC of simply bowing to the minister’s request.
In a second ruling on 9 March, the supreme court’s administrative chamber approved the HAAC’s decision to permanently strip the L’Indépendant Express newspaper of its licence because of a report claiming that ministers had stolen “golden spoons” at a reception. Its editor, Carlos Ketohou, was detained illegally for five days after the story was published.
“There is absolutely no justification for such drastic measures,” said Assane Diagne, the director of RSF’s West Africa office. “These decisions punish two newspapers without any basis in one case and disproportionately in the other in response to complaints by the government or its members. They discredit the media regulatory mechanisms and unfortunately show that no entity has been capable of exercising judicious and impartial control, respecting a balance between journalists’ obligations and the need to protect the freedom to inform. It is time to increase the HAAC’s independence and to take appropriate measures to avoid repeating such decisions, which pose a serious threat to journalism in Togo.”
Ayité is meanwhile due to appear in court today for the hearing of his appeal against the fine of 4 million CFA francs (just over 6,000 euros) that was imposed on him and his newspaper for a sensational article in June claiming that several ministers and other senior officials were embezzling vast amounts of money from the importation of petroleum products.
Togo is ranked 71st out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.