Freedom in the World
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Togo received an upward trend arrow due to the easing of criminal penalties against journalists.
In an effort to win back foreign aid, Togo in 2004 eased criminal penalties against journalists and pledged to undertake more than 20 other reforms that officials say will demonstrate that the country is committed to improving its record on democracy and human rights. The European Union agreed to a partial resumption of aid in November 2004.
Togoland, a German colony for more three decades until France seized it at the outset of World War I, gained independence in 1960. The country's founding president, Sylvanus Olympio, was murdered in 1963 as Gnassingbe Eyadema, then a demobilized sergeant who had served in France's colonial wars, led an army coup to topple the country's democratically elected government. After assuming direct power in 1967, Eyadema suspended the constitution and extended his repressive rule through mock elections and a puppet political party.
In 1991, the organizing of free political parties was legalized, and multiparty elections were promised. The transition faltered, however, as soldiers and secret police harassed, attacked, or killed opposition supporters. Eyadema won fraudulent elections in 1993 and 1998.
Leading opposition parties boycotted the October 2002 legislative vote to protest preparations for the polls, which they said would prevent the holding of a free and fair election. The ruling Rally of the Togolese People party won 72 of 81 parliamentary seats.
Eyadema supporters in the National Assembly began setting the stage in 2002 for his victory in the June 2003 presidential election by changing the constitution to allow him to run for a third term. Lawmakers also altered the composition of the Independent National Electoral Commission, transferred responsibility for organizing the elections from the commission to the Ministry of the Interior, designated the ministry to select polling officers, and stipulated that presidential candidates were to reside in Togo for at least one year prior to elections. To help assure Eyadema's win, the Constitutional Court barred the president's main rival and opposition leader, Gilchrist Olympio, from participating in the polls. Earlier, the electoral commission had denied the candidacy of Olympio, who had been living in exile, on the grounds that he lacked a certificate of residency and could not prove that he had paid his taxes. Olympio appealed, but the commission's decision was upheld by the Constitutional Court.
Eyadema won another five-year term as president 57 percent of the vote, compared with 34 percent for Emmanuel Bob-Akitani of Olympio's Union of Forces for Change (UFC) party. Four other candidates shared the remainder of the vote. The EU declined to send observers, saying it was unlikely that the vote would be fair. Monitors from the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States, however, claimed that the elections were free and fair. Opposition members maintained that they were intimidated or barred from polling stations, that ballot boxes were stuffed, that fictitious polling centers were created, and that some legitimate voting stations did not receive ballots.
The European Union imposed sanctions on Togo a decade ago because of the government's resistance to democratic reform. In November 2004, it agreed to a partial resumption of aid but stated that full aid would not be restored until free and fair elections were held. International donors have partly conditioned a resumption of aid on political dialogue between the government and political opposition. Togolese authorities in 2004 eased travel restrictions against Olympio. The government also pardoned 500 prisoners, including several political prisoners. In April, the government pledged to undertake 22 reforms that would keep the country on what President Eyadema referred to as a "train" headed for democracy. The reforms included launching talks with the political opposition and amending press and communications laws.
Togo's economy is smarting from the EU sanctions, as well as from corruption and mismanagement. Corruption, military spending, and large, inefficient state-owned companies impede economic growth. Eighty percent of Togolese are engaged in subsistence agriculture.
The Togolese people cannot change their government democratically. Presidential elections in 1993 and 1998 were blatantly fraudulent. The National Assembly, which is dominated by President Eyadema's Rally of the Togolese People, amended the electoral code prior to the 2003 presidential election to favor Eyadema's candidacy. The measures reduced the power of the electoral commission and compromised its impartiality. The October 2002 legislative elections were neither free nor fair.
Togo was not ranked by Transparency International in its 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index. Corruption in Togo has been a serious impediment to development. Reporting about corruption has often landed Togolese journalists in jail.
At least 15 private newspapers publish in Lome. There are more than a dozen independent newspapers that publish sporadically and many private radio stations, most of which operate as pirate stations. Most of the independent broadcast media outlets, however, offer little vibrant local news coverage or commentary. Togo's watchdog groups include the Togolese Media Observatory, a nongovernmental organization made up of state-media and independent journalists, and which aims to protect press freedom and improve professionalism in journalism.
The National Assembly in 2004 amended the press and communications laws to remove prison terms for most offenses. International press freedom groups welcomed the move but said they would watch to see how the amended laws are applied. Prison sentences could still be imposed in cases of journalists found guilty of calling for theft, murder, racial hatred, or subverting security forces from "their duty to the country." Heavy fines of up to $9,000 remained in place for "defaming or insulting" the president, state institutions, courts, the armed forces, and public administration bodies. The previous laws had imposed jail terms of up to five years on reporters and were among the most repressive press laws in Africa.
Fewer journalists were threatened or jailed in 2004 than in previous years. Still, harassment remains a problem. Yves Kpeto, a reporter with Nana FM, and another journalist with the weekly newspaper Le Combat du People were roughed up by security forces in May 2004 at the University of Lome during a student demonstration.
Constitutionally protected religious freedom is generally respected. Academic freedom is not respected, and government informers and security forces maintain a presence on campuses. The University of Lome was closed for most of May following student demonstrations demanding better grants and living conditions. Several student leaders were jailed in connection with the protests.
Freedom of assembly is allowed, but is often restricted for the government's political opponents. Demonstrations are often banned or violently halted. Human rights groups are closely monitored and sometimes harassed. Togo's constitution includes the right to form and join unions, except for "essential" workers such as security forces. Nevertheless, only 20 percent of the labor force is unionized. Unions have the right to bargain collectively, but this right is restricted.
The judiciary is heavily influenced by the president. Traditional courts handle many minor matters. Courts are understaffed and inadequately funded, pretrial detentions are lengthy, and prisons are severely overcrowded. Extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests, and torture continue. Security forces commit abuses with impunity, and illegal detention is common. Amnesty International in 2004 cited Togo for malicious prosecution, arbitrary arrest, and excessive force against political demonstrations. Nine militants of the main opposition UFC party were sentenced in 2004 to between two and six years in prison in connection with disturbances during the 2003 presidential elections. They had been detained on what many believe were politically motivated charges following the destruction of a petrol station and the explosion of a handmade bomb in a French restaurant in Lome.
Ethnic discrimination is rife among the country's 40 ethnic groups. Political and military power is narrowly held by members of a few ethnic groups from northern Togo, especially Eyadema's Kabye ethnic group. Southerners dominate the country's commerce, and violence occasionally flares between the two groups.
Despite constitutional guarantees of equality, women's opportunities for education and employment are limited. A husband may legally bar his wife from working, or he may legally choose to receive her earnings. Customary law bars women's rights in divorce and denies inheritance rights to widows. Violence against women is common. Female genital mutilation is widely practiced by the country's northern ethnic groups, and a law prohibiting the practice is not enforced. Several organizations promote the rights of women.
Child trafficking for the purpose of slavery is a problem in Togo as it is in much of West Africa. The New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a 2003 report that hundreds of children each year were trafficked from, received in, or trafficked through Togo on false promises of education, professional training, and paid employment. The report said the children were transported at times under life-threatening conditions and were subjected to physical and mental abuse.