Two Togolese journalists freed but subjected to absurd judicial controls
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on Togo’s authorities to rescind the extremely strict and unjustified judicial controls placed on two newspaper editors as a condition for their release on 31 December after three weeks in prison in the capital, Lomé, on charges of defaming and insulting two government ministers.
L’Alternative editor Ferdinand Ayité and Fraternité editor Joël Egah have had to surrender their passports, they cannot leave Togo, they must visit the judge in charge of the case every week and they must not comment on the case, aside from posting or publishing apologies to the two ministers they alluded to in a Web TV discussion.
When contacted by RSF, their lawyer Elom Kpade described the controls as “appalling” and said he intended to challenge them in court.
“The absurd conditions placed on the release of these two journalists is a way to maintain the pressure on them,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “It amounts to treating them as potential criminals and as people who could try to evade justice when they have done absolutely nothing wrong and it is the authorities who circumvented the press law in order to jail them. We call for the withdrawal of all the charges against them and the lifting of these completely unjustified judicial control measures.”
The two newspaper editors were finally let out of prison on their third request for provisional release. They were arrested on 10 December in connection with their comments during a discussion on “L’Autre Journal,” a very popular current affairs programme broadcast on L’Alternative’s YouTube channel, during which they suggested, without naming them, that two ministers were linked to cases of misuse of government funds.
Togo’s press law abolished prison sentences for press offences in 2004, but the prosecution claims that the journalists’ comments are not covered by the press law because they were made on a “social network.”
Ayité, L’Alternative’s editor, has been subjected to repeated intimidation attempts in connection with his journalism and he was one of the journalists who were targeted by the Togolese authorities for potential surveillance with the Israeli mobile phone spyware Pegasus. L’Alternative was suspended for two months in March 2020 as a result of a complaint by the French ambassador and for another four months in February 2021 following a complaint by a government minister. In November 2020, Ayité and the newspaper were fined 4 million CFA francs (more than 6,000 euros) for their coverage of the so-called Petrolgate case involving the embezzlement of vast sums in connection with the importation of petroleum products.
Togo is ranked 74th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.