RSF demands the release of a Togolese newspaper publisher jailed for an article

Apollinaire Mewemenesse journaliste togo prison Majdoulba

Appollinaire Mewenemesse is pending trial after more than 72 hours in police custody. The publisher of the Togolese newspaper La Dépêche has been jailed on seven charges including “spreading false news” over an article about the murder of an ally of the president in 2020. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns this disproportionate decision and calls for his immediate release.

In the latest blow to press freedom in Togo, Apollinaire Mewenemesse was transferred to Lomé’s main prison on 28 March, after three days at the headquarters of the Research and Investigation Brigade (BRI).

Arrested on 26 March in connection with an article published on 28 February about the murder of Col. Bitala Madjoulba, an ally of President Faure Gnassingbé who was shot dead in May 2020, Mewenemesse is now in pre-trial custody on charges carrying up to 30 years in prison.

The jailing of Apollinaire Mewenemesse shows the degree to which the vice is tightening on journalists and media in the run-up to Togo’s parliamentary elections. The number of charges brought against him following the publication of an article and the duration of his newspaper’s suspension are disproportionate. They seem to be designed to intimidate media professionals who investigate subjects involving the government’s allies. RSF calls on the Togolese authorities to drop the charges against this journalist and to release him without delay.

Sadibou Marong
Director of RSF’s Sub-Saharan Africa bureau

Mewenemesse questions in his article the responsibility of the state in Col. Madjoulba’s murder. His lawyer said the charges brought against him include “conceiving and publishing fake news with the aim of inciting the population or the army to rise up against the state,” “advocating against national defence and state security” and “publishing a written text in the print media that attacks the honour, dignity and respect for the President of the Republic.”

Togo’s media regulator, the High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC), meanwhile suspended publication of La Dépêche for three months on 4 March.

Problems for journalists in Togo

Journalists have found it increasingly difficult to practise their profession in recent months and several faced pressure. The publisher of the newspaper Le Flambeau des Démocrates, Loïc Lawson, and freelance reporter Anani Sossou were jailed for two weeks in November 2023 over social media posts about a government minister. They are now under judicial supervision pending trial on charges of “defaming” the minister, “attacking his honour” and “inciting revolt.”

In March 2023, Ferdinand Ayité, the publisher of the newspaper L'Alternative, and Isidore Kouwonou, its editor, were forced to flee the country after being convicted in absentia of “contempt of authority.” A court subsequently issued an international warrant for their arrest.

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