Togo is a republic governed by President Faure Gnassingbe, whom voters peacefully re-elected in February 2020 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 an opposition boycott.
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 the Armed Forces but also reports to the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection on many matters involving law enforcement and internal security. The armed forces have some internal security duties and report also to the Ministry of the Armed Forces. 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. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by government or on behalf of government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media including the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic or intimate partner violence and child, early, and forced marriage; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.
Corruption and impunity for abuses were problems. The government took limited steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed abuses or corrupt acts.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Ministry of Security and Civil Protection announced investigations into several reports of killings by security forces in 2020, but the results of these investigations remained pending. For example, the April 2020 death of a Lome man after leaving his home during the COVID-19 curfew remained unresolved as of September.
On February 24, parents demanding justice for children killed during opposition protests in 2017 and 2018 launched the Collective of Victims’ Families in Togo, calling on the government to bring the perpetrators to justice. As of September, authorities had not announced any investigations into those deaths.
Government offices formally empowered to investigate security force killings include the Central Directorate of the Judicial Police (CDJP) and the Inspectorate of the Judicial Police. The Ministry of Security also investigates high-profile cases but rarely publishes the results. The Ministry of Justice recommends appropriate cases for prosecution to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) also investigates security force killings.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of the government.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices. There were multiple reports, however, that government officials employed cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.
Human rights organizations reported systemic physical mistreatment of uncharged detainees. The CNDH serves as the National Mechanism to Prevent Torture (NMPT), and human rights organizations invited the NMPT to engage more actively to prevent torture and abuse.
On December 29, 2020, gendarmes arrested Carlos Ketohou, publishing director of L’Independant Express, a private newspaper. He was held at the Central Intelligence and Criminal Investigation Service (SCRIC) until January 2. Human rights groups reported Ketohou suffered ill treatment and was denied clothing other than underwear. Security forces repeatedly interrogated him over the course of several hours with guns pointed at his face.
Authorities arrested Pan-African National Party Prefectural secretary Abdou-Moutawakilou Yakoubou in January 2020 on allegations of having participated in violent acts against gendarmes during the 2019 government raid on the “Tiger Revolution” group. Authorities granted him provisional freedom on health grounds in July, and he died on August 26 of a long-term illness. Human rights organizations reported he was subjected to torture and inhuman acts while in detention. The Committee for the Liberation of All Political Prisoners in Togo reported that five others arrested in early 2020 for participation in the Tiger Revolution group, Mourane Tairou, Alassani Issaka, Saibou Moussa, Seybou Alilou, and Djalilou Soulemane, died in prison in late 2020, and were also allegedly subjected to torture while in prison.
On October 20, the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States condemned the government for torture and ill-treatment of a woman arrested during political demonstrations in 2017. The court ordered the government to pay $53,000 restitution to the woman. The woman filed a complaint with the court in 2018 after domestic courts refused to consider her petitions.
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there was one allegation submitted in October 2020 of sexual exploitation and abuse by a Togolese peacekeeper deployed to a UN peacekeeping mission. As of September, the United Nations had substantiated the allegation and repatriated the perpetrator, but the government had not disclosed the disciplinary or remedial measures taken.
Impunity was a problem in the security forces, including police, gendarmes, and the armed forces. The factors that contributed to impunity included politicization, lack of political will, corruption, and insufficient training. Human rights organizations reported they filed several complaints, but the government rarely investigated or punished those involved.
Offices tasked with investigating abuses include the CDJP, the Inspectorate of the Judicial Police, the Ministry of Security, the Ministry of Justice, the Public Prosecutors’ Office, and the CNDH.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions and detention center conditions remained harsh and potentially life threatening due to serious overcrowding, poor sanitation, disease, and insufficient and unhealthy food.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a serious problem. As of August 30, there were 4,990 convicted prisoners and pretrial detainees (including 132 women) in 13 prisons and jails designed to hold 2,720 inmates. For example, the Lome civil prison was more than one-third above capacity with approximately 900 inmates held in a prison designed to hold 666. These crowded conditions facilitated the spread of COVID-19.
Nursing mothers with infants were generally held together with other detainees. In some cases, nursing mothers chose to have their babies placed in the care of a government-supported private nursery. In September the national penitentiary director claimed there were no nursing mothers in prison. Officials held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners.
As of September, the national penitentiary director confirmed there were 26 prison deaths from illnesses linked to overcrowding and malaria. The government reported no prisoners had died from COVID-19. Medical facilities, food, sanitation, ventilation, and lighting were inadequate. Prisoners did not have access to potable water, and disease was widespread.
Administration: Prisons lacked ombudsmen to assist in resolving the complaints of prisoners and detainees. Although authorities allowed prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, they rarely investigated complaints and, when they did, did not release their findings. The government rarely monitored and investigated allegations of inhuman prison and detention center conditions received from other sources.
Independent Monitoring: Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Justice accredited nongovernmental organization (NGO) representatives for prison visits. The government required international NGOs to negotiate an agreement to obtain access, and the International Committee of the Red Cross and other international human rights organizations had such agreements. Such NGOs were generally independent and acted without government interference. Nevertheless, some NGOs noted instances in which they had received authorization to conduct a visit but were denied access upon arrival, most often when visiting political prisoners alleging mistreatment by prison guards. Security forces monitored visits to the SCRIC predetention facility and did not allow NGO representatives and prisoners to speak in confidence. Authorities generally denied requests by journalists to visit prisons.
In April 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government suspended prison-monitoring visits by NGOs to limit the spread of the virus. This measure complicated independent monitoring of prison conditions significantly. Authorities, however, permitted some selective visits.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government did not always observe these requirements.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law authorizes judges, senior police officials, prefects, and mayors to issue arrest warrants. Detainees have the right to be informed of the charges against them, and police generally respected this right. The law provides for a suspect to be brought before a judicial officer within 72 hours of arrest. Although the law stipulates that a judge conduct a pretrial investigation to examine the adequacy of evidence and to decide on bail, authorities often held detainees without bail for lengthy periods regardless of a judge’s decision. Attorneys and family members have the right to see a detainee after 48 to 96 hours of detention, but authorities often delayed or denied access. All defendants have the right to an attorney, and the bar association sometimes provided attorneys for indigents charged with criminal offenses. The law gives indigent defendants the right to free legal representation, but the government provided only partial funding for counsel. Abuses of legal protections are supposedly subject to internal disciplinary investigations and criminal prosecution by the Ministry of Justice, but investigations and prosecutions seldom occurred.
Arbitrary Arrest: On November 4, authorities arrested Geneva-based government critic Jean-Paul Oumolou during a family visit. Authorities held Oumolou without charge for eight days, then charged him with incitement to revolt, contempt of authority, dissemination of false news, and “crime apology.” Oumolou fled the country during the 2018 antigovernment protests, when he called on citizens and the military to prevent President Faure Gnassingbe from seeking another term.
In November 2020 authorities arrested leading officials Gerard Djossou and Brigitte Kafui Adjamagbo-Johnson from Dynamique Monseigneur Kpodzro (DMK), the political group that supported opposition figure and February 2020 presidential election runner-up Agbeyome Kodjo. The public prosecutor claimed the government had evidence the DMK planned to destabilize the state but did not present it nor detain others. In December 2020 the investigative judge charged the two with conspiracy and undermining the internal security of the state and later that month released them from prison under judicial supervision. The government continued to monitor their movements, and the two needed permission to travel outside the country. Opposition members and human rights groups asserted the charges were politically motivated.
Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detainees and persons in preventive detention constituted 60 percent of the total prison population. A shortage of judges and other qualified personnel, as well as official inaction, often resulted in pretrial detention for periods exceeding the time detainees would have served if tried and convicted, in many cases by more than six months.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the government did not always respect judicial independence and impartiality. The executive branch exerted control over the judiciary, and judicial corruption was sometimes a problem. A widespread public perception existed that lawyers bribed judges to influence the outcome of cases. The court system remained overburdened and understaffed.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but executive influence on the judiciary limited this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. They have a right to a trial without undue delay, to be present at their trial, to communicate with an attorney of their choice or be provided with one at public expense if unable to pay, and to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Trials were open to the public and juries were used. Defendants have the right to confront prosecution witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right not to testify or confess guilt. Those convicted have the right to appeal. Although authorities in many cases respected these rights, there were numerous exceptions, including long delays in trials and denial of access to attorneys.
In rural areas the village chief or a council of elders has authority to try minor criminal and civil cases. Those who reject traditional authority may take their cases to the regular court system.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
The Committee for the Liberation of All Political Prisoners in Togo stated there were more than 100 political prisoners or detainees. These persons did not receive the same protections given to other prisoners and detainees. Human rights and humanitarian organizations did not have access to them.
During a radio debate on April 27, Patriotic Democratic Front opposition leader and former communication minister Djimon Ore criticized France’s policies in Africa and said the acts the ruling Gnassingbe family committed exceeded the atrocities of the Rwandan genocide. On April 29, the Criminal Investigation Service arrested Ore at his home. The public prosecutor charged Ore with “attacking the honor, attempting aggravated disturbances of public order, and insulting representatives of the public authority.” He was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment on May 14. Various opposition leaders and civil society activists called for his release and declared his arrest was a violation of his freedom of expression. Ore remained in custody at year’s end.
On May 17, security forces detained Patriotic Movement for Democracy and Development party member Paul Missiagbeto for allegedly spreading fake news. Authorities reportedly held Missiagbeto for four days without charges at the SCRIC before transferring him to Lome Civil Prison 18 days after his arrest. On September 1, a court sentenced him to four years in prison for “threats, insults and disturbance of public order.” His legal counsel said the charges came from surveillance of his illegally acquired cell phone and violated constitutional protections.
The Association for Victims of Torture and the Mandela Awareness Movement highlighted 14 emblematic cases sent to the president in November 2020, calling for him to free political prisoners, particularly those arrested in the Tiger Revolution raid of 2019. In February the Committee for the Liberation of All Political Prisoners in Togo noted that Abdoul-Aziz Goma and 15 others were still in detention after their arrest in 2018, with two persons also still detained from a 2018 opposition protest, and 76 persons still in detention from the raid on the Tiger Revolution group.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
The constitution and law provide for civil and administrative remedies for human rights abuses, but the judiciary did not respect such provisions, and most citizens were unaware of them.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but there were reports such interference occurred.
On May 17, a dozen heavily armed gendarmes in civilian clothes reportedly broke into Djimon Ore’s home in western Lome and searched without a warrant. After conducting a search, they arrested Ore and returned to take photos (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners).
On July 21, international media cited the use by authorities of Israeli software program Pegasus to spy on activists, opponents, and journalists. The government reportedly spied on several persons, including journalists Carlos Ketohou and Ferdinand Ayite, as well as opposition figures and human rights activists (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners).
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
Although the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, the government restricted these rights.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, including Online Media: The law imposes penalties on journalists deemed to have committed “serious errors,” such as privacy infringement; incitement of racial, ethnic, or religious hatred; apology for war crimes, sedition, or terrorism; and dissemination of defamatory statements.
Violence and Harassment: Authorities used harassment and intimidation to threaten journalist Carlos Ketohou (see section 1.c., Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment of Punishment).
Censorship or Content Restrictions: On October 11, the media regulatory body, the High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC), suspended weekly newspaper The Guardian for four months and revoked the press card of its editor without notice. The HAAC suspension order accused the newspaper of inciting civil disobedience and violating the press code for its report on parental opposition to a school mandate ordering the vaccination of minors age 13.
Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are criminal offenses. Human rights organizations reported the government used these laws to restrict public discussion and retaliate against journalists. For example, on January 4, the HAAC ordered the private newspaper L’Independant Express to cease operations permanently, including its print and online publications. The HAAC decision cited a newspaper story from December 2020, noting the publication did not respect “professional rules” relating to insulting officials and defamation. The story, entitled “End-of-year scoop: two women ministers arrested for theft of golden spoons,” did not reference any specific government official by name or by country.
On February 5, the HAAC suspended the private newspaper L’Alternative for four months. The HAAC suspension order stated that an article published in the newspaper on February 2 had violated professional and ethical standards regarding allegations of oil sector corruption. The order referenced a February 3 civil complaint filed by Minister of Urban Planning, Housing, and Land Reform Koffi Tsolenyanu for “misinformation, offense and defamation.”
In November 2020 a court found L’Alternative publishing director Ferdinand Ayite liable for defamation regarding a 2020 report of $900 million of alleged embezzlement in the petrol sector. The court also suspended publication of the newspaper. On October 14, an appeals court postponed for a fourth time an appeal of the fine imposed by the trial court.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The government sometimes restricted these rights.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The law 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. Since April 2020 the government banned protests and public demonstrations under the COVID-19 state of emergency.
On July 31, armed security agents prevented the DMK from holding two rallies in the capital city of Lome. Political parties reported the government used the COVID-19 state of emergency as an excuse to break up small in-house political gatherings and intimidate the political opposition.
Freedom of Association
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. On July 26, the government suspended the allocation of NGO registration and renewal agreements. Government officials claimed the suspension was needed to update the NGO regulatory framework and align NGO activities with government priorities.
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 to solicit 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, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.
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.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of physical violence against refugees.
Durable Solutions: The government cooperated with UNHCR to assist in the safe, voluntary repatriation of refugees to their home countries, including the repatriation of 25 Ivoirian refugees between January and September.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous allegations of government corruption, and some officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
The body responsible for combating corruption, the High Authority for Preventing and Combating Corruption and Related Offenses, is an independent body that works with the judiciary on strengthening anticorruption practices and oversees adherence of public officials to anticorruption statutes. It also has a public outreach function that includes raising public awareness and referring complaints for legal action.
Other state entities, such as the Government Accounting Office and the Finances Inspectorate, investigated and audited public institutions but reported few results. Authorities maintained toll-free and text-messaging lines for citizens to report cases of corruption.
Corruption: Government corruption was most severe among prison officials, police, and members of the judiciary. There were credible reports judges accepted bribes to expedite and render favorable decisions in land-dispute cases.
On February 26, Vincent Bollore, CEO of Bollore Group, and two senior company executives admitted in a French court to corruption and abuse of power related to the acquisition of a Port of Lome concession extension, tax exemptions, and construction permissions in exchange for drastically discounted communication services to President Faure Gnassingbe’s 2010 re-election campaign. The French court recommended a criminal trial for the executives. Bollore Group additionally paid nearly $15 million in damages.
In November 2020 a leaked Finance Inspectorate audit noted serious irregularities in the Committee to Monitor Fluctuations of the Prices of Petroleum Products, a government body tasked with managing orders and setting prices for those products. In 2020 L’Alternative reported $900 million in alleged embezzlement by the director of the committee and his son (see section 2.a., Libel/Slander Laws).