Togolese police on Thursday fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse journalists protesting new censorship authority granted to the government media regulator, according to news reports and local journalists.March 18, 2013, CPJ
“We condemn the reckless and heavy-handed actions of Togolese police against journalists peacefully marching in defense of press freedom,” CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita said from New York. “Adopting broad new censorship powers and then violently dispersing those who protest them are not the actions one expects in a free society.”
Police were dispersing journalists representing seven local press organizations who had gathered in front of the presidential palace for the last of a peaceful three-day sit-in protest against amendments passed by the national assembly on February 19, news reports said. The amendments grant Togo’s media regulatory body, the High Authority for Broadcasting and Commission (HAAC), the power to, among other actions, summarily shut down news outlets without a court order, news reports said.
Sylvio Combey, president of a local press freedom group who participated in the sit-in, told CPJ that some of the police officers who deliberately fired on the journalists had been identified. “We were not armed, yet the police were shooting directly at us in a deliberate attempt to injure us,” Combey said.
One journalist, Younglove Egbéboua Amavi, manager of Radio Planete Plus and head of another local press group, sustained a fractured jawbone and mouth injuries after being hit by a rubber bullet. Amavi’s daughter told CPJ her father had metal wires attached to his jaw and could not eat or speak. She said he required surgery.
Yollanda Lovi, a reporter with the private RTDS media group, passed out from the effects of the tear gas fired by police officers, according to a public statement released by the press freedom groups. The statement said that other journalists who attempted to help Lovi were also attacked.
Security Minister Colonel Yark Damehane announced that an investigation would be conducted into the use of force by the police, according to news reports.
Under the new amendments, HAAC can now revoke the operating licenses of Togolese media outlets without judicial process, news reports said. HAAC is composed of nine members, four of whom are directly nominated by Togo’s president and the other five of whom are nominated by the Togolese parliament which is controlled by the president’s supporters, local journalists told CPJ.
The new amendments sparked outrage from journalists and human rights groups who began protesting on March 12 to condemn the law as illegal and in contravention of Togo’s constitution. The constitution states that only a court of law can ban a media organization after a petition has been brought before it by the HAAC.
•For more data and analysis on Togo, visit CPJ’s Attacks on the Press.