Although the constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, the law imposes severe penalties on journalists responsible for “serious errors.” The government restricted these rights in practice, although less so than in previous years. Impunity for past crimes against journalists and defamation suits encouraged self-censorship.
Freedom of Speech: Unlike in previous years, there were no reports that persons were reluctant to criticize the government publicly or privately due to past violent reprisals by government agents and the possibility of civil liability.
Freedom of Press: The government owned and operated one daily newspaper, and there were two independent dailies. Approximately 30 privately owned newspapers were published with some regularity. There was a lively independent press, most of which was heavily politicized, with some newspapers highly critical of the government.
Violence and Harassment: During the year journalists formed a group called “SOS Journalists in Danger” after receiving an anonymous note--allegedly from the government--threatening 10 prominent journalists because of their critical reporting on the government and the NIA. The note, which was widely reported in the local press, quoted a senior official as saying that the 10 journalists were under surveillance and would “soon come to taste the torture they are talking about.” The note added that the journalists would be physically harmed by “faked accidents, poisoning, and made-up stories.” The 10 journalists cited had covered a March report by the Human Rights Committee of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressing concern about allegations of torture and mistreatment in detention, particularly at the premises of the NIA. Colonel Dokisime Gnama Latta, the minister of security and civil protection, said the allegations in the note represented “an outrageous campaign” of “fantastic cock-and-bull stories” and called the list “fictitious.” None of the journalists threatened had been harmed by year’s end.
Information surfaced during the year that in August 2010 gendarmes assaulted Didier Ledoux, a journalist with the daily Liberte Hebdo, while he was photographing the main Lome law courts, where defamation suits were being heard against two newspapers. According to Ledoux, the gendarmes dragged him to one of their vehicles, beat him, forced him into the vehicle, and took him to a nearby gendarmerie barracks. Within minutes of the arrest, the Union of Independent Journalists of Togo and the Committee of Newspaper Owners telephoned the head of the gendarmerie, who subsequently released Ledoux.
In November 2010, plain-clothes gendarmes shot cameraman Tony Sodiji with a tear gas grenade at close range. Sodiji was filming a demonstration. In September 2010 gendarmes stabbed Sodji while he was covering a demonstration.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The High Authority of Audiovisuals and Communications (HAAC) was established to provide for freedom of the press, ensure ethical standards, and allocate frequencies to private television and radio stations. Although nominally independent, in practice the HAAC operated as the government’s censorship arm. The HAAC has the power to impose severe penalties--including suspending publications for up to six months, withdrawing press cards, and seizing equipment from journalists--for vaguely defined “crimes.” Unlike in the previous year, the HAAC did not suspend any publications or withdraw press cards.
On August 29, the Tribune d’Afrique, a newspaper based in Benin but with a bureau in Lome, resumed distribution after it had been banned. In August 2010 a criminal court judge banned indefinitely the distribution of the newspaper, which had published an investigative series on the alleged involvement of Mey Gnassingbe, a half brother of the president, in drug trafficking. Regarded as a critic of the government, Tribune d’Afrique often has been targeted by government authorities in recent years and has been summoned by the HAAC approximately 20 times since it published a 2009 article on the president’s weekend palace in Agou. The resumption of distribution in Togo was the result of a July 14 decision by a Lome appeal court reducing the damages against the newspaper from 60 million CFA francs ($125,000) to 10 million CFA francs ($20,800) and limiting the distribution ban to a period of three months, which expired in November 2010.
Libel Laws/National Security: On November 2, a Lome criminal court ordered the privately owned weekly L’Independant Express to pay 200 million CFA francs ($415,000) in damages and a fine of 800,000 CFA francs ($1,663) to Julie Beguedou, the CEO of the rice-import company Elisee Cotrane. On August 16, an article in the newspaper accused Beguedou of planning to flood the local market with toxic rice. In a letter to the justice minister, Reporters without Borders (RSF) characterized the story as harsh and damaging, but said the damages were exorbitant and likely to bankrupt the newspaper. RSF underscored that lawsuits against the media should not be motivated by the goal of intimidating journalists into self-censorship.
Radio remained the most important medium of mass communication, and there were approximately 100 radio stations, most of which were privately owned.
On February 2, the National Press Owners Committee, the Togo Union of Independent Journalists, and the Togolese Media Monitoring Center launched a campaign to draw attention to the November 2010 closure of three independent radio stations by the Posts and Telecommunications Regulation Agency (ART&P). The campaign included “Togo without media” days of action, sit-ins outside government agencies, and protest marches in various cities. The three stations--Providence, Metropolys, and X-Solaire--were closed for not having proper operating permits or meeting technical requirements. On March 16, the ART&P ordered the closure of Carre Jeune, a community radio station, on the grounds of “nonrespect for professional standards.” By year’s end, Providence, Metropolys, and Carre Jeune radio stations had obtained the required documentation and were permitted to resume broadcasting. Radio X-Solaire, however, remained closed.
The government-owned Togo Television was the only major television station. Eight smaller television stations operated during the year.