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Tear Gas and Rubber Bullets Break Journalist Protest in Togo

On March 14, 2013, security forces violently broke up a sit-in by private sector journalists in Togo. The journalists were protesting [fr] the new provisions of the Organic Law which mean the High Authority for Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC) can now withdraw business licences of the Togolese media without judicial proceedings.

The protests, organised by seven professional associations, took place in Lomé, largest city and capital of Togo. Security forces used clubs, tear gas bombs and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators. Some journalists were injured, notably Younglove Egbéboua Amavi, general secretary of Togolese press association SAINTJOP (Union of Information Agents and Journalists of the Public Outlets).

Younglove Agbéboua Amavi, General Secretary of SAINTJOP after being injured by security forces. Photo via afreepress.info -  Public Domain

Younglove Agbéboua Amavi, General Secretary of SAINTJOP after being injured by security forces. Photo via afreepress.info – Public Domain

News website 27avril.com published an article covering the facts:

Le journaliste Younglove Egbéboua Amavi, secrétaire général du Syndicat des agents de l’information, techniciens et journalistes des organes publics (SAINTJOP), a été gravement blessé au visage par une balle en caoutchouc lors d’un sit-in des journalistes, jeudi à Lomé, a constaté APA sur place. Il a été admis en urgence au centre hospitalier universitaire de Lomé Tokoin où selon les médecins, le journaliste souffre d’une fracture de la mandibule avec une lésion des dents.. La manifestation a été violemment réprimée par des forces de l’ordre qui ont fait usage de gaz lacrymogènes et de matraques pour disperser les journalistes.

Journalist Younglove Egbéboua Amavi, general secretary of the Union of Information Agents and Journalists of the Public Outlets (SAINTJOP), was seriously injured in the face by a rubber bullet during a sit-in by journalists on Thursday in Lomé, reported APA from the scene. He was urgently admitted to the Lomé University Hospital Centre in Tokoin where doctors declared that the journalist had suffered a fractured jaw with a lesion from teeth.. The demonstration was violently repressed by the forces of order who made use of tear gas and clubs to disperse the journalists.

Professional news organisations had instigated a gradual programme of demonstrations before resorting to a sit-in. Reporters without borders presented the planned schedule on their website [fr]:

Le mardi 12 mars 2013, à l’appel de huit organisations de professionnels des médias, les médias audiovisuels, la presse écrite et la presse en ligne observeront une “journée sans presse”. Le lendemain, une manifestation rassemblera les opposants à cette loi, qui, pour l’occasion, porteront du rouge. Enfin, le jeudi 14 mars, un sit-in sera organisé devant le Palais de la Présidence de la République.

Le 18 février dernier, Reporters sans frontières s’est adressée au Premier ministre togolais, monsieur Ahoomey-Zunu, pour demander le retrait du projet de loi.

On Tuesday March 12, 2013, following appeals from eight professional media organisations, the audiovisual media, written and online press will observe a “press-free day.” The following day, a demonstration will gather together opponents of this law, who will wear red for the occasion. Finally, on Thursday March 14, a sit-in will be organised in front of the Palace of the President of the Republic.On February 18, Reporters Without Borders had addressed the Togolese Prime Minister, Mr Ahoomey-Zunu, to demand retraction of the law.

Although the case of Younglove Egbéboua Amavi was the most serious, other journalists were also subjected to rough treatment. The website of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, cpj.org told that [fr]:

Yolande Lovi, reporter du groupe privé RTDS, est tombée en syncope sous l'effet des grenades lacrymogènes tirés par des policiers, selon un communiqué rendu public par les groupes de défense de la liberté de la presse. Le communiqué indique que d'autres journalistes qui ont tenté d'aider M. Lovi ont également été agressés.

Yolande Lovi, a reporter from the private group RTDS, blacked out under the effect of tear gas hand grenades thrown by the police, according to a press release by groups defending press freedom. The document indicated that other journalists who tried to help Mr Lovi had also been attacked.

The following video shows the security forces trying to disperse demonstrators [fr]:

Yark Damehane, Togolese Minister of Security gave his version of events in a press release published by news blog republicoftogo.com,[fr]:

Toutes les injonctions régulièrement faites par les forces de l’ordre sont restées vaines. C’est alors qu’ayant procédé aux sommations, le commandant de la troupe a décidé de faire usage de la force pour évacuer les lieux

Une grenade lacrymogène a malheureusement atteint au visage M. Younglove Egbéboua Amavi qui a aussitôt été évacué au pavillon militaire du CHU Sylvanus Olympio. Ces jours ne sont toutefois pas en danger. On déplore de part et d’autres des blessés au moment de la dispersion des manifestants par les forces de sécurité.

All the injunctions regularly made by the forces of order remain in vain. That’s how, having proceeded with the warnings, the troop commander decided to make use of force to evacuate the area.Unfortunately, a tear gas grenade hit the face of Mr Younglove Egbéboua Amavi who was immediately taken to the military pavilion of the CHU Sylvanus Olympio (hospital). These days are not, however, in danger. We deplore the injuries on both sides which occurred during the dispersal of demonstrators by the security forces.

This version of the facts was vigorously contested by numerous sources. On website togocity.com, Nima Zara wrote [fr]:

Tollé général dans la famille des journalistes. Où le Colonel Yark a-t-il vu des gens emmener le confrère Amavi au pavillon militaire ? A-t-il imaginé ou l’a-t-on trompé ? Le mensonge est si gros qu’il fait pousser un gros cri de consternation, de stupéfaction et de révolte. Tous les témoins, manifestants et curieux qui avaient assisté à la course-poursuite, savent que ce sont les confrères Francis Galley, Junior Amenunya et Ferdinand Ayité qui se sont pliés à quatre pour conduire M. Amavi dans un centre privé puis au CHU Sylvanus Olympio.

Public outcry in the family of journalists. Where had Colonel Yark seen people bring our colleague Amavi to the military pavilion? Did he imagine it, or was he fooled? The lie is so gross that you want to howl with dismay and outrage. All the witnesses, demonstrators and bystanders who saw the chase, know that it was our colleagues Francis Galley, Junior Amenunya and Ferdinand Ayité who were bending over backwards to drive Mr Amavi to a private centre then to the CHU Sylvanus Olympio.

Alluding to the repressive methods that the previous President Gnassingbé Eyadèma applied and that his son Faure Gnassingbé, who inherited the presidency, continues to use, she added [fr]:

De Gnassingbé Eyadèma à Faure Gnassingbé, les méthodes ne changent pas. Le mensonge grotesque et impudique continue d’être servi aux populations dans des situations où même les individus les plus fêlés vont reconnaître le flou, le faux et l’intox. Même dans l’erreur, on refuse de reconnaître la faute et de faire profil bas. On doit avoir toujours raison comme si de Gnassingbé Eyadèma à Faure Gnassingbé, ce sont des irréprochables et des dieux humanisés qui gouvernaient le pays. Le mensonge flagrant du jeudi dernier est la dernière preuve en date, s’il faut se garder de parler des enquêtes sur les incendies des marchés. Machiavel, Néron, Hérode et Pilate tous ensemble !

From Gnassingbé Eyadèma to Faure Gnassingbé, methods have not changed. The grotesque and shameless lie continues to be served to populations in certain situations where even the craziest individuals must recognise the vagueness, the fakery and the propaganda. People mistakenly refuse to recognise these faults and to keep a low profile. We must always be right, as if Gnassingbé Eyadèma and Faure Gnassingbé were immaculate, human gods governing the country. Last Thursday’s blatant lie is the latest proof to date, we should be careful of speaking about the investigations into the flare-ups during the [demonstrators'] marches. Machiavelli, Nero, Herod et Pilate all together!

Togolese news blog dutogo.com reported the words of Mohamed Keita, African Coordinator for the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, giving precise details on the modifications on the law covering the press [fr]:

Conformément aux nouveaux amendements, la HAAC peut maintenant retirer les licences d’exploitation des médias togolais sans procédure judiciaire, ont rapporté des médias. La HAAC est composée de neuf membres, dont quatre sont nommés directement par le président de la République et les cinq autres par le Parlement qui est contrôlé par la majorité présidentielle, ont déclaré au CPJ des journalistes locaux.

Conforming to the new amendments, the HAAC can now withdraw business licences of the Togolese media without judicial proceedings, reported the media. The HAAC consists of nine members, four of which are named directly by the president while the remaining five are chosen by the parliament, which is controlled by a presidential majority, local journalists told the CPJ.

However, only a few days after these serious events, Oliver A revealed, in an article posted on afreepress.info, that the Constitutional Court had given an unfavourable response concerning certain modifications of the law [fr]:

…. Les articles 58, 60, cinquième et sixième tirets, 62, dernier tiret,63, troisième et quatrième tirets, 64 et 67 de la loi organique adoptée le 19 février 2013, portant modification de la loi organique n° 2009-029 du 22 décembre 2009 relative à la Haute Autorité de l’Audiovisuel et de la Communication, ne sont pas conformes à la Constitution.

…. Articles 58, 60, fifth and sixth indents, 62, last indent, 63, third and fourth indents, 64 and 67 of the Organic Law adopted on February 19, 2013, including modification of the Organic Law number 2009-029 of December 22, 2009 relative to the High Authority for Broadcasting and Communication, do not conform to the constitution.

The website of radiogameli.com highlighted that the National Council of Press Patrons (CONAPP) and the Union of Independent Togolese Journalists (UJIT), neither of whom were among the professional organisations behind the demonstration [fr]:

Par une démarche menée envers la Fédération internationale des Journalistes (FIJ), l’UJIT indique pour sa part, avoir à travers une requête sollicité une « assistance financière directe au confrère en difficulté ». « La procédure suit son cours normal et la FIJ en mesure la réelle portée au regard des échanges entre l’UJIT et cette structure internationale dont elle est l’affiliée au Togo », stipule le communiqué.

The UJIT indicates that it has requested “direct financial assistance for a colleague in need” via the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). The press release stipulates that “the procedure is following its course and that the IFJ is aware of the significance of the issue if judged by the exchanges between the UJIT and Togolese brach of the IJF”.

According to Ferdinand Ayité, president of ‘SOS Journaliste en danger’, cited by Olivier A in an article on afreepress.info, Younglove Agbéboua Amavi’s state of health is worse than it seemed and his medical expenses are unlikely to be under 650,000 CFA (Central African Francs). This association has many initiatives and is calling out to all those who care about press freedom in this country to come to the aid of Mr Amavi so he is able to pay his medical fees.

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