On Friday, December 10, 2021, Ferdinand Ayité and Joël Egah, respectively directors of publication of L’Alternative and Fraternité, were charged and placed under arrest for offense against authority, propaganda of false statements, incitement to hatred and slandering. Their request for temporary release, submitted on December 14, 2021, was rejected by the investigating judge. A third journalist, Isidore Kouwonou, was also questioned in this case and placed under court supervision.
The three journalists were called in after making critical comments during the program "L'Autre Journal" on the youtube channel of the bi-weekly "L'Alternative" about two pastoral ministers who, according to them, contributed to the exemption of the health pass in some churches in Togo.
These arrests seriously violate press freedom and deprive citizens of their right to freedom of expression and access to information, as guaranteed by the 1992 Togolese constitution.
Press offenses were effectively decriminalised in Togo in 2004. But Article 3 of the Press and Communication Code adopted in 2020 states that social networks are excluded from the press code and are bound by the provisions of common law.
"The law makes a significant clarification to Article 156 in these terms: any journalist, technician or media assistant holding a press card who has used social networks as a means of communication to commit any violation provided in the press code, is punished in accordance with the provisions of common law," he said.
The right to freedom of expression is protected by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, which Togo has ratified.
The situation in Togo is all the more critical since five months earlier, the name of journalist Ferdinand Ayité appeared on the list of Togolese personalities who were subject to surveillance via the Pegasus spy software.
These detentions also mark a sad end to the year for the Togolese press after the withdrawal of the receipt of the weekly "L'Indépendant Express", whose Director of Publication, Carlos Ketohou, was arrested at night last January while he was summoned by the Central Criminal Investigation and Research Service (SRCIC), to which he was supposed to respond the next day.
Several media and human rights activists were prosecuted for publishing information in the course of their work. The newspaper Fraternité was suspended in March 2020 for two months, following an article condemning the suspension of two other newspapers.
AfricTivistes supports Ferdinand Ayité, Joël Egah and Isidore Kouwonou and strongly opposes this arbitrary detention, which is a serious violation of freedom of expression.
We ask for their imminent release and call on the Togolese authorities to drop the proceedings against these media professionals.
AfricTivistes believes that the press is a fundamental pillar of democracy to be protected and preserved. We call on the Togolese government to treat journalists with respect and to put an end to all forms of pressure (censorship, violence, arrest, ...) aimed at silencing voices of criticism.
We therefore urge the Togolese government to ensure that the rights and freedoms of journalists are respected.