Togo Sentences Two Journalists to 3 Years for Insulting Authorities

Published: 16 March 2023

LAutre-Journal-Nov-30Authorities in the West African country of Togo sentenced three journalists for taking part in a discussion broadcasted on YouTube about the alleged involvement of two ministers in corruption. (Photo: L'Alternative/YouTube, screenshot, License)

By Josef Skrdlik

A court in the authoritarian West African nation of Togo sentenced on Wednesday two investigative journalists to three years in prison after they discussed on YouTube the alleged involvement of two ministers in corruption.

Isidore Kouwonou, the chief editor of OCCRP’s local partner l’Alternative and the newspaper’s publisher Ferdinand Ayité were also given a fine totalling the equivalent of nearly US$5,000.

The two were, along with journalist Joël Egah who also took part in the November 2021 discussion, charged with insulting authorities and spreading false statements on social media. Egah and Ayité were detained for three weeks, after which they were granted a provisional release, and Kouwonou was put under judicial control and barred from leaving the capital Lomé.

A few weeks later, Egah suddenly died and his death was followed by a long period of inaction from the authorities, which made many believe that they abandoned the case.

But on March 1 this year, not long after they talked about mismanagement of Covid funds by the government, Kouwonou and Ayité received a surprise notice to attend a court hearing scheduled for a week later.

The two managed to leave the country before the final hearing and are currently in hiding.

A statement by l’Alternative described the verdict as “ridiculous,” adding that it is a part of a plan to silence independent and objective media and an attempt to strike a final blow to the newspaper.

Togo has been ruled by one family since 1967. Faure Gnassingbé, who took the presidential office in 2005 after his father’s death, has in recent years been criticized for becoming increasingly authoritarian as demands for him to step down grew.

The Committee to Protect Journalists earlier in March urged the authorities to drop all legal proceedings against the two journalists and allow them to work freely.

Kouwonou and Ayité, who are now under a domestic arrest warrant, are planning to appeal against the ruling.