Togo 2019
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Togo 2019

The authorities continued to crackdown on peaceful dissent, particularly against members of the opposition Pan-African National Party ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Togo adopted several laws curtailing the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and other ill-treatment, and impunity for human rights violations and abuses persisted.

Background

On 30 June, Togo held its first local elections in 27 years. The Union for the Republic (Union pour la République, UNIR), the party of President Faure Gnassingbé, won a majority of the seats. The opposition Pan-African National Party (Parti National Panafricain, PNP) boycotted the elections.

Legal and constitutional developments

On 8 May, the National Assembly adopted a law revising the Constitution to prohibit the death penalty and life imprisonment. It allows incumbent President Faure Gnassingbé, in office since 2005, to run for an additional two terms of five years each, including the 2020 election. It shields former presidents from arrest, detention, and prosecution for actions taken while in office.

On 12 August, the National Assembly adopted two laws raising major human rights concerns.

Revisions to the law on assemblies stated that organizers of meetings and assemblies in private settings must inform local authorities in advance. It provides for a ban on assemblies in certain locations and at certain times. The law allows local authorities to cap the number of assemblies per week in their area and to ban protests at the last minute.

Freedom of assembly

The authorities continued to ban or impose itinerary changes to peaceful demonstrations organized by human rights groups and opposition groups. Security forces, including the military, dispersed peaceful protests using excessive and lethal force.

The PNP organized nationwide protests scheduled for 13 April to call for constitutional reforms. These protests were banned by the Ministry of Territorial Administration, except in Lomé, Afagnan and Sokodé, on the grounds that they would “undermine public order”. They were dispersed by security forces using tear gas and batons. Dozens of protesters and bystanders were injured. At least one man died during demonstrations in the northern town of Bafilo. There have been conflicting accounts on the circumstances of the death: some blamed security forces but the Minister of Security and Civilian Protection accused other demonstrators. Despite multiple requests, the death certificate and autopsy report were not shared with his family.

At least 30 people were arrested during the 13 April protests and 19 were sentenced to 24 months imprisonment, with suspended sentences ranging from 12 to 24 months, for aggravated public disorder.

Following the protests, at least three PNP leaders were also arrested, including the PNP treasurer Sébabé Guéffé Nouridine, the permanent secretary Kéziré Azizou and the special advisor Ouro-Djikpa Tchatikpi. Nouridine and Azizou were accused of rebellion, assault, and not respecting the ban and restrictions on protests’ itineraries. On 7 May, they were sentenced to 24 months in prison, with suspended sentences of 12 to 24 months, respectively. Tchatikpi was released on bail on 10 August.

Freedom of expression 

The authorities continued to curtail the right to freedom of expression.

On 19 January, the Criminal Court of Lomé sentenced activist Foly Satchivi of the movement Under No Circumstances (En aucun cas) to 36 months in prison, with 12 months suspended, for “rebellion”, “apology of crimes and offences” and “aggravated public disorder”. He had been arrested on 22 August 2018 while he was about to hold a press conference on the crackdown on protests. On 10 October, the Court of Appeal reduced his sentence to 28 months in prison, with six months suspended. He was released on 16 October following a presidential pardon.

On 25 March, the High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication (Haute Autorité de l’Audiovisuel et de la Communication, HAAC) withdrew the licence of the newspaper La Nouvelle on the grounds that it published “unverified information”, incited ethnic and religious hatred, abused the privacy of citizens, as well as uttered slanders and insults.

Assiba Johnson, President of the Group of Young Africans for Democracy and Development (Regroupement des jeunes africains pour la démocratie et le développement, REJADD) was released on 5 April after serving his sentence. He had been arrested on 4 April 2018 and later sentenced to 18 months in prison, with a six-month suspended sentence, for spreading false news and insulting public officials following the publication of a report on the repression of protests in 2017-2018.

On 15 October, pro-democracy activists from Turn the Page Niger (Tournons la page Niger, TLP Niger) and TLP Côte d’Ivoire were denied access to Togo.

Torture and other ill-treatments

In July, the Committee against Torture reviewed Togo and expressed concerns about allegations of torture particularly in police and gendarme custody and in the jails of the Central Criminal Investigation. The Committee found that prison conditions amounted to ill-treatment in the majority of institutions, and cited overcrowding (occupancy rate at 182%) and lengthy pre-trial detention (62% of detainees were awaiting trial).

Impunity

The authorities continued to fail to take steps to identify those suspected of responsibility for human rights violations and abuses, including the deaths of nearly 500 people during the violence surrounding the 2005 presidential election. Of the 72 complaints filed by victims’ families in Atakpamé, Amlamé and Lomé courts, none are known to have been fully investigated.

No one has been brought to justice for the shooting and deaths of Rachad Maman, 14, and Joseph Zoumeke, 13, during separate protests in 2017. Their families filed complaints, but there has been no progress in the proceedings.

Economic, social and cultural rights

Following her visit to Togo in May, the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery expressed concerns about children in forced labour, domestic servitude and other forms of contemporary slavery and recommended that existing laws criminalizing these practices are enforced, alongside strengthened prevention measures.