The judicial harassment of human rights defenders and those peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression continues in Togo. Ferdinand Mensah Ayité, editor of the newspaper L’Alternative, a bi-weekly news and investigative publication committed to denouncing corruption and documenting human rights violations in Togo, and Joël Vignon Egah, editor of the newspaper Fraternité, were released from Lomé civil prison and placed under judicial supervision on the evening of December 31, 2021.On December 9 and 10, 2021 Ferdinand Mensah Ayité and Joël Vignon Egah were arrested and detained for having made critical comments about two Togolese ministers during the programme "L’autre journal" broadcast on YouTube on November 30, 2021. Despite their release, the two journalists are still being prosecuted for "contempt of authority" (Article 490 of the Togolese Code of Criminal Procedure), "defamation" (Article 290 of the Togolese Penal Code) and "inciting hatred of authority" and face up to two years in prison and a fine of 1 million CFA francs (about 1,520 euros).Isidore Kouwonou, editor-in-chief of L’Alternative and Secretary General of the Union of Independent Journalists of Togo (SYNJIT), has been under judicial supervision since December 10, 2021, because of his participation in the same programme as a moderator. He is being prosecuted on the same charges as Mr Ayité and Mr Egah.The pro-democracy activist Fovi Katakou, a member of Tournons La Page Togo, was also provisionally released under judicial supervision on December 20, 2021 after nine days of arbitrary detention. He is accused of "apology for crimes and offences" (Article 552 of the Togolese Penal Code) and "incitement to revolt against the authority of the State" (Article 495 of the same Code) in relation to a Facebook post dated December 10, 2021 in which he warned about the problems of insecurity, injustice, and lack of infrastructure in Togo. For this he faces up to five years in prison and a fine of 20 million CFA francs (approximately 30,460 euros).The Observatory and Tournons La Page recall that Ferdinand Ayité and L’Alternative were already fined for defamation in November 2020 following the publication of an article exposing a case of massive embezzlement in the Togolese oil sector, and that in early 2021, the newspaper was suspended for four months following accusations of publishing false news. Furthermore, Ferdinand Ayité was named as among those under surveillance via Pegasus spyware.The Observatory and Tournons La Page denounce the recurrent attacks on fundamental freedoms, particularly the freedoms of expression, assembly and association in Togo. These abuses are characterised by repeated attacks and a judicial relentlessness against human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists, with the aim of silencing any protesting voice.The Observatory and Tournons La Page welcome the release of Fedinand Ayité, Joël Egah and Fovi Katakou, but reiterate that they should never have been imprisoned in the first place, as their detention was arbitrary and aimed at preventing them from carrying out their legitimate human rights activities and punishing them for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
The Observatory and Tournons La Page call on the Togolese authorities to drop all legal proceedings against Ferdinand Ayité, Joël Egah, Isidore Kouwonou and Fovi Katakou and to ensure that they can carry out their legitimate human rights activities without hindrance or fear of reprisals.
The Observatory and Tournons La Page also call on the Togolese authorities to guarantee the right to freedom of expression in the country, as enshrined in the Togolese Constitution, as well as in several regional and international human rights protection instruments, in particular Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, ratified by Togo in 1984 and 1982 respectively.