One year of systematic silencing of those who speak out for human rights.
As the OAU July Summit to be held in Togo approaches, the government's pledge to human rights remains rhetorical as long as attacks against human rights activists and independent media continue, Amnesty International said today.
Since Amnesty International published a report on Togo one year ago* at least twenty-five human rights activists, including trade unionists, student leaders, and independent journalists, have been arbitrarily arrested or forced to flee by the Togolese authorities. Some of them were tortured while in detention.
'Independent journalists - who play a key role in investigating and exposing human rights violations committed by the Togolese security forces - have become the targets of the latest clampdown by the Togolese authorities,' Amnesty International said.
In just the last three weeks, Hippolyte Agboh, director of an independent Togolese weekly paper, l'ExilÃ©, was imprisoned and Lucien Messan, director of Le Combat du Peuple, was forced into hiding to escape arrest. Other journalists, including Roland Kpagli Comlan, director of L'Aurore, and Vigno Koffi Hounkanly, director of Crocodile, went into hiding due to a well-founded fear of persecution.
Amnesty International is concerned that detention for press offences such as â€˜spreading false information' is regularly used by the Togolese authorities against independent journalists. The organisation believes that the detention and search for these journalists is politically motivated and is linked to their critical scrutiny of the Togolese government.
Independent media have also recently reported on a United Nations report, issued in March 2000, which strongly condemns President Eyadema for violating UN sanctions against the Angolan armed opposition group, UNITA.
'The Togolese government should immediately and unconditionally release Hippolyte Agboh and stop pursuing others, such as Lucien Messan, Roland Kpagli Comlan and Vigno Koffi Hounkanly,' Amnesty International said.
Two leaders of a students organisation the Conseil des Etudiants de l'UniversitÃ© du Benin - CEUB - (Council of the University of Benin), Koumoyi Kpelafia and Hanif Tchadjobo, were arbitrarily arrested on 3 and 10 April 2000 respectively. They have been detained in the civil prison of LomÃ© on criminal charges. Amnesty International considers them prisoners of conscience The other leaders of the organization are in hiding or have fled the country.
Amnesty International urges the Togolese government to immediately and unconditionally release these students. The organisation believes that their detention is an attempt by the Togolese authorities to put an end to students' protests by silencing the leading members of CEUB.
'The Togolese government's systematic attempts to silence those who speak out about human rights is not a good start to the international commission of enquiry,' concluded Amnesty International. The international commission of enquiry, to investigate human rights violations in Togo, should be established this year by the UN and the OAU.
*On 5 May 1999 AI published a report entitled Togo: Rule of terror, based on the findings of a fact-finding visit to Togo in November and December 1998. The report described a persistent pattern of extrajudicial executions, 'disappearances', arbitrary arrests and detentions followed by torture and ill-treatment, sometimes leading to death, and harsh conditions of detention which amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. In particular it alleged that hundreds of people had been killed by the security forces around the time of the June 1998 elections and that bodies had been dumped at sea by military aircraft. By July independent journalists and another human rights organization, the Ligue pour la dÃ©fense des droits de l'homme, League for Human Rights, based in Benin had corroborated AI's findings.