Togo | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Togo

Togo

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

78

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

34

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

21

Freedom of speech is legally guarded by both the constitution and new press laws adopted in 2004. President Gnassingbe Eyadema, Africa's longest-ruling dictator, had been listed in 2002 as one of Reporters Sans Frontieres' "Predators of the Press," but in 2004 initiated legal improvements to the status of press freedom and democracy in his country as the result of negotiations with the European Union intended to lift trade sanctions. These improvements included amendments to Togo's harsh 2000 Press and Communications Law that abolished the law's restrictive provisions, including prison sentences for offenses such as defamation and insult. The amended law also prohibited the government from seizing and closing media outlets without judicial approval. However, with the death of President Eyadema in February 2005 and the installation of his son, Faure Gnassingbe, as the new head of state in an unconstitutional, military-led coup, the political upheaval that followed made a mockery of these laws. Nonetheless, Gnassingbe soon bowed to international and regional pressure and agreed to prepare the country for a legitimate presidential election on April 24. Gnassingbe was declared the winner amid allegations of fraud and political violence that, according to a UN report, left between 400 and 500 people dead, caused 40,000 people to flee the country, and resulted in mob attacks on both pro-opposition and pro-government media outlets.

During the initial period of upheaval in February, seven private media outlets, comprising four radio stations and three minor television channels, were censored by security forces working for the High Audiovisual and Communications Authority (HAAC)-Togo's media regulation body, which has traditionally resided in the breast pocket of the government-for allegedly provoking "civil disobedience and racial hatred" on the air and because of unpaid broadcasting fees. Three of these stations, including Kanal FM, were suspended for as long as two weeks. On February 10, broadcasting equipment was stolen from Radio Lumiere by the military, forcing them to close through the end of the year. Also in February, FM broadcasts by Radio France Internationale (RFI) were jammed to block programs the government considered to be "calling for revolution and destabilization," while one of RFI's France-based reporters was denied a visa to enter the country. The ban on RFI was not lifted until November on the opening day of an international media summit held in Lome.

In preparation for the election itself, the HAAC issued a statement in early April forbidding coverage of the election campaign by private broadcasters. Under this new decree, Kanal FM was again forcibly shut because of a program it aired entitled "Autopsy of an Electoral Campaign." Internet access, telephone networks, and broadcast transmissions were cut off on election day and remained obstructed in subsequent months.

By year's end, tension between the new government and private media outlets had abated but not disappeared. Gnassingbe made promises to continue the political reforms begun by his father. As part of these reforms, the government has agreed to institute a financial aid program for the private media, including tax relief for media suppliers. Many private journalists remain skeptical about the intentions behind this proposed funding and fear that it is simply another way in which the government intends to control content. In September, Philippe Evegno, publisher for an independent opposition magazine, was appointed the new head of the HAAC-Togo's first ever press representative in the media regulatory body. Nonetheless, it remains to be seen how much impact Evegno can have with eight of the nine members of the HAAC still loyal to the executive. In October, Jean-Baptise Dzilan, editor of a weekly opposition paper, was brutally beaten. In response, over 100 journalists and rights activists demonstrated in front of the office of the communications minister without government reprisal. Marginal improvements had been registered at year's end, but it remains to be seen whether Gnassingbe will distance himself from his father's 37-year legacy of oppression.

Throughout the crisis, Togo's only major television station continued to be the government-owned Television Togolaise, and the only uninterrupted daily newspaper, Togo Presse, also remained controlled by the state. Many private radio stations continue to exist but most either focused on music and entertainment broadcasts or were restricted in their capacity for political commentary due to highly restrictive government censorship. Access to the internet outside of the election was available to less than 5 percent of the population, primarily through internet cafes that were heavily monitored by the government. Proprietors of internet cafes were required to provide records of clientele activity if asked to do so by a state official.