Togo expels French reporter, suspends press accreditation for foreign media

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns Togo’s arrest, mistreatment and deportation of a French freelance journalist after it gave him a six-month suspended prison sentence, and its subsequent decision to suspend all accreditation for the foreign media. These are unacceptable violations of the right to information, RSF says.

It took French freelancer Thomas Dietrich just five days to be arrested, tried and deported after entering Togo via the land border with Benin on the night of 10 April. His aim was to provide the French media outlet Afrique XXI with coverage of the current political unrest and protests against a new constitution changing Togo’s presidential system to a parliamentary one.

Dietrich’s professional e-visa application was approved prior to his arrival and his passport was stamped at the border. But, when he went to the headquarters of the High Council for Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC), the media regulator, on 15 April to collect his press accreditation, he was told that his request was being refused on the grounds that he should have applied for it at the same time as his visa.

As Dietrich left the building, hooded men grabbed him, bundled him into a van, blindfolded him, and took him to plainclothes police headquarters, where he was questioned at length and beaten, he told RSF. The next day, he was subjected to a summary trial in which the verdict was delivered within two hours: a six-month suspended prison sentence, expulsion to Benin for “illegal entry into the territory,” and a ban on reentering Togo.

There is no justification for the treatment this journalist suffered or for the suspension of accreditations. Thomas Dietrich travelled to Togo with complete transparency. The grounds for his conviction look alarmingly like a pretext to obstruct his work. And, following the adoption of a new constitution amid much tension, and with parliamentary and regional elections scheduled for 29 April, the decision to temporarily suspend issuing accreditations to foreign media is a flagrant violation of the freedom to inform and deprives people of pluralistic reporting. We call on the authorities to rescind it immediately.

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

Degrading treatment

During his interrogation on 15 April by police at the Research and Investigation Brigade (BRI), Dietrich was beaten several times, throttled, undressed and threatened. “They told me that they were going to put me in a jail and ask the prisoners to do things to me,” he told RSF. He was unable to access his medication. The police also accused Dietrich of “insulting the president.” The day before, Dietrich had posted a video on X in which he described Togo as a dictatorship and said “no one knows the content” of the new constitution.

Ban on accreditation for foreign reporters

 When RSF contacted HAAC vice-president Octave Olympio, he provided a document accusing Dietrich of “deliberate manoeuvres tending to mask his real profession” and entering Togo by “illegal routes and without any formal procedures” after previously being denied entry. Dietrich nonetheless provided RSF with a copy of his stamped passport and pointed out that he had sent documents attesting to his journalistic activity and specified his profession on several occasions when applying for a visa and again at the border post.

RSF tried to contact the minister of communication and media, Yawa Kouigan, and the minister of security and civil protection, Calixte Madjoulba, without success.

The HAAC announced “the provisional suspension of the issuing of accreditations” in a press release on 15 April that cited “the problems linked to special envoy Thomas Dietrich (...) in the context of the issuing of accreditations.” It also cited “serious failings recently noted in the coverage of political news on Togo by RFI and France 24,” without specifying the alleged failings.

Since April 2022, these two French public news broadcasters have been targeted in several Sahel countries including MaliBurkina Faso and Niger, whose military juntas have shut down their local broadcasting for good or until further notice.

113/ 180
Score : 50.89
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