In a case without head or tail, which seems to correspond to no logic, two journalists were sentenced by the court of Lomé to three years in prison, firm, last week. A first for many years but which enters into a succession of facts which make fear the worst for the local press. But do we really have to worry about the media which constitute, with the opposition parties and movements, the base of the resistance in a long authoritarian country?
The question is worth asking. Because, before Ferdinand Ayité, the famous investigative journalist, and Isidore Kouwonou, his acolyte and editor-in-chief, were sentenced to three years in prison in mid-March, Liberté, the country’s largest private daily, was, in a case that opposes him to the Prime Minister, Victoire Dogbé, who is subject to a three-month publication ban. A decision taken by the controversial High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication (Haac), the equivalent of the Regulatory Authority for Audiovisual and Digital Communication (Arcom) in France. Except that here, having deliberately misunderstood the mission assigned to it by the constitution, the Haac has become a media policeman for the benefit of power. In short, a sort of Commission of response and systematic support for the regime, discrediting itself as its questionable decisions are made and alienating the media, of which it has become enemy number one. In the case of Liberté as in others, the decision of the High Authority was invalidated by the Supreme Court.
And since, with other attacks against the media, the frenzy seizes the private press which has known, in recent years, departures of their professionals and forced exiles. This is undoubtedly the case of Ferdinand Ayité who will have no choice but to settle in Europe where he should have been for several days. The departure, if not the flight of such a good journalist is not only a loss for the press but above all a source of concern for a corporation whose financial solidity has been tested by the crisis of the covid-19 pandemic. but also strongly weakened by the lack of training of its actors. And in this context of sometimes approximate professionalism, it is the best who are forced into exile, which risks, in the medium term, ruining a profession which, as far as Togo is concerned, has trouble adapting to the structural and technological changes.
Two years before a presidential election (2025), which is generally a source of discord, the dry washing of media men presages a strategy of intimidation and muzzling as much as in the absence of a structured and effective opposition , journalists have become the last ramparts against the systemic abuses of the regime. This is all the more so since the recent adoption of the digital code deliberately confuses journalists and social network activists in order to stubbornly undermine the protection enjoyed by professional journalists and guaranteed by the constitution. By assimilating, at the whim of the judge, often won over to power, journalists and activists, the law thus exposes the former to custodial sentences, which have been prohibited by the press code for two decades. This amounts to circumventing a rather noble provision, without abolishing it, for fear of scratching the image of a regime sensitive to its external appearance.
There is a real fear, in a sub-regional context of endogenous political upheavals in the established regimes, that these attacks against the press will be part of a harmoniously thought out and coherent whole to restrict public freedoms. Because, the advent of a power in subtle “dictatorization” in adjoining Benin and the proliferation of military juntas in other neighboring countries can precipitate in Togo an authoritarian whiff. The sub-regional atmosphere of collective regression superficially attenuating the seriousness of violations of rights and freedoms. This is why the pressures must remain maximum on Lomé, with support for the press through training that contributes to its adaptation to the new changes in the media space with the proliferation of new media.
All in all, freedom of the press, long more or less guaranteed, is threatened. The eruption of attacks against the press, in an African context of journalists murdered in Rwanda and Cameroon and numerous arbitrary arrests of media men in Algeria, Sudan, Ethiopia or elsewhere, are more worrying. It is time that the Western chancelleries accredited in the country, the United Nations system, the European Union but also the organizations of the civil society are worried about it and challenge, on occasion, the public authorities. The alert was given by the 2022 ranking of Reporters Without Borders which caused the country to lose 26 points, a record in decrepitude in all the rankings combined.
Source: Afrika Stratgies France