The HAAC ordered the suspension following a hearing on 4 February, two days after the newspaper published an article describing the minister of urbanism, housing and land reform as a “forger” because, it said, he used forged documents when administering the property of the family of a recently-deceased wealthy businessman.
The HAAC accused the L’Alternative of insulting the minister in the article and of producing no evidence in support of its claims at the hearing.
This is not only disputed by the editor but also by one of the HAAC’s own members, Zeus Komi Aziadouv, who published a letter disowning the decision. The HAAC “did not remain true to what took place at the hearing” and instead satisfied the minister’s request for the newspaper to be sanctioned, Aziadouv wrote.
L’Alternative editor Ferdinand Ayité meanwhile published a long letter detailing both what took place at the hearing and all of the newspaper’s research before publishing the article, including its attempts to get a response from the minister.
“A disgruntled minister complains about an article, the journalist provides a detailed account of the serious research that went into it, and yet a long suspension is imposed on the newspaper,” said Assane Diagne, the director of RSF’s West Africa office. “Like the editor himself, we call for this decision to be rescinded, which follows several controversial sanctions against Togolese media outlets. We also urge the authorities to increase the HAAC’s independence so that its decisions are those of a fair and impartial regulator.”
When reached by RSF, Ayité described the suspension as “arbitrary,” accused the HAAC of discrediting itself “to the point of falsifying its own hearings in order to gratify a minister,” and said he had referred the HAAC’s “excessive power” to the supreme court. “We are awaiting a decision even if it is hard to trust Togolese justice,” he added.
Defending the suspension when reached by RSF, HAAC president Willybronde Telou accused Ayité of lacking the qualifications to be a journalist and dismissed all the newspapers criticizing the HAAC as “rags.”
Last November, L’Alternative and its editor were fined 4 million CFA francs (just over 6,000 euros) for allegedly defaming officials in 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.
At the start January, the HAAC banned the Indépendant Express weekly newspaper outright for nothing more than a report claiming that ministers had stolen “golden spoons” at a reception. Immediately prior to this extremely severe sanction, the weekly’s editor, Carlos Ketohou, was detained illegally for five days over the same article.
Togo is ranked 71st out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.