Togo is a republic governed by President Faure Gnassingbe, whom voters peacefully re-elected on February 22 in a process that international observers characterized as generally free and fair. Opposition supporters alleged fraud but did not provide any credible evidence. The international community accepted the election results. The 2018 parliamentary elections also took place under peaceful conditions. The Economic Community of West African States considered those elections reasonably free and transparent, despite a boycott by the opposition.
The national police and gendarmerie are responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. The gendarmerie is also responsible for migration and border enforcement. The National Intelligence Agency provides intelligence to police and gendarmes but does not have internal security or detention facility responsibilities. Police are under the direction of the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection, which reports to the prime minister. The gendarmerie falls under the Ministry of Defense but also reports to the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection on many matters involving law enforcement and internal security. The Ministry of Armed Forces oversees the military. Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the armed forces, gendarmerie, and police, and government mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse were often not effective. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by security force members; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by the government; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention centers; arbitrary detention; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and the internet, including threats of violence, and the existence of criminal libel laws; interference with freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct; and reports of crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons.
Impunity was a problem. The government took limited steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed abuses.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
Although the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, the government restricted these rights. The law imposes penalties on journalists deemed to have committed “serious errors.”
Violence and Harassment: On April 30, the Media Foundation for West Africa expressed concern regarding acts of violence committed by authorities against journalists while covering the arrest of political leader Agbeyome Kodjo on April 21. Members of the security forces fired tear gas at the reporters, then reportedly detained one of them without cause.
On August 18, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) condemned “judicial harassment and threats” against the editor of the newspaper L’Alternative and called on authorities to defend the right of freedom of expression. L’Alternative had published an article on June 9 regarding alleged embezzlement in the oil sector. The individuals accused in the article then filed a lawsuit against the newspaper and its editor for defamation. The FIDH reported that the editor was subsequently subjected to “threats, including death threats, and acts of intimidation, including through anonymous telephone calls.” The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reportedly also expressed concern following reports of an intimidating phone call on July 21 pressuring the L’Alternative editor to stop reporting allegations of corruption related to the oil sector.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: In April the Togolese section of the International Union of the Francophone Press and the CPJ expressed concern regarding two High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC) disciplinary decisions made on March 23. Following defamation complaints filed by the French ambassador, the HAAC imposed a two-month suspension on the privately owned biweekly newspaper L’Alternative for an article that criticized the French president’s Africa advisor. The HAAC also imposed a 15-day suspension on the privately owned daily newspaper Liberte for an article describing the French ambassador as an enemy of democracy. In its decision the HAAC accused the two opposition newspapers of not complying with professional rules.
In April the Independent Union of Togolese Journalists expressed concern over another HAAC disciplinary action suspending the privately owned newspaper Fraternite for two months. The HAAC sanctioned Fraternite for publishing an article denouncing the sanctions against L’Alternative and Liberte and criticizing the members of the HAAC. Human rights organizations regarded the HAAC’s suspension decisions as disproportionate.
Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are criminal offenses. Unlike in previous years, there were no cases filed under these laws.
The law criminalizes the dissemination of false information online and the production and sharing of data that undermine “order, public security, or breach human dignity.” A person convicted of violating the law may be sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. Although no cases were prosecuted, human rights organizations reported the law continued to contribute to an atmosphere of “restricted civic space,” an environment in which citizens self-censor due to their fear of being punished for sharing actual thoughts and opinions.
The government restricted access to the internet on the day of the presidential election, February 22, and the following day, February 23.
On February 21, the chairman of the Independent National Election Commission (CENI) stated that an internet shutdown could occur during the voting process. The Open Observatory of Network Interference reported blocked access to several instant-messaging applications, including Facebook, WhatsApp, and Telegram for Togo Telecom and Atlantique Telecom subscribers shortly after polls closed on February 22. In March, the NGO Access Now reported that the government prevented access to those several internet services during the election.
On June 25, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice ruled that the 2017 internet shutdown ordered by the government due to opposition party protests was illegal. The court ordered the government to pay approximately $3,500 in compensation to the plaintiffs and to implement safeguards to protect the right to freedom of expression in the country.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The government sometimes restricted these rights.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly. As in 2019, the government restricted freedom of peaceful assembly.
The law regarding peaceful public demonstrations imposes restrictions on the time, place, frequency, and application process for holding public demonstrations. The law prohibits demonstrations on all major roads, in urban centers, zones of economic activity deemed key, and areas close to government institutions, military sites, and diplomatic buildings. Protests may only take place between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., and protesters must follow a single route designated by authorities.
On February 28, the minister for territorial administration banned demonstrations called by opposition candidate Agbeyome Kodjo and former archbishop Philippe Kpodzro, claiming that the group was not a registered organization. Small demonstrations took place, nonetheless, and human rights organizations reported security force mistreatment of protesters, including caning and the use of other excessive force to disperse the demonstrations.
On August 1, the minister for territorial administration once again banned demonstrations called by former archbishop Kpodzro. Security forces reportedly dispersed protesters with force and detained eight persons for their participation in the protest. Authorities released them the same day.
The law potentially restricts freedom of political association since it grants broad powers to the government to target suspected terrorists. According to human rights organizations, the law could be misapplied to restrict lawful activity by opposition party members and their supporters.
In the pre-election period, human rights organizations received reports of political parties unable to campaign freely because of undue restrictions by local government officials or security forces. Additionally, following continuing government interference with the activities of the opposition PNP in 2019, party members reported they no longer tried to hold meetings.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: Traffic police and gendarmes routinely stopped motorists on fabricated traffic-law offenses in order to obtain bribes.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees, and Stateless Persons: UNHCR reported two cases of physical violence against refugees and referred both cases to the government and its partners.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection for refugees.
Durable Solutions: The government cooperated with UNHCR to assist in the safe, voluntary repatriation of refugees to their home countries. From January 1 to August 31, the government assisted in the repatriation of four refugees. UNHCR reported the number of refugees was lower than previous years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.