- Title: TOGO: Togo's government accused of gagging independent media
- Date: 23rd April 2009
- Summary: CU OF NEWSPAPER
- Embargoed: 8th May 2009 13:00
- Location: Togo
- Country: Togo
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVAE0TMMKMFVM2PSL9YSAZ9F9E32
- Story Text: Togo's media organisations accuse the government of clamping down them over their coverage of President Faure Gnassingbe's brother arrest over a foiled coup plot.
Togo's broadcast regulator, the High Council for Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC) has banned all TV and radio programmes in which viewers and listeners are encouraged to phone in and share their views.
The HAAC warned in a communiquÃ© that any media houses caught flouting the ban would face disciplinary action.
The HAAC made the move after a flood of comments poured into TV and radio stations following the arrest of the President Faure Gnassingbe's brother, Kpatcha Gnassingbe, last week. Kpatcha stands accused of plotting to seize power while his brother was on a trip to China.
Kpatcha and Faure were both seen as potential successors to their father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, when he died in 2005 after ruling the West African country with an iron fist for decades.
It was younger, Western-educated Faure who came to the fore but his fierce rivalry with Kpatcha, who has strong links with the military, had long threatened to resurface ahead of presidential elections in 2010.
State radio said Togo's armed forces had reaffirmed their "complete loyalty and absolute faithfulness" to the president in a declaration on Monday (April 20).
"I have taken all the necessary measures with the government, so that justice can be firmly applied. But we acted calmly and respectfully towards the perpetrators of this crime and their accomplices," Faure said on national television on Tuesday (April 21).
The police are holding Kpatcha, who is also a member of parliament and former defense minister, and have detained nine soldiers, including five army officers, over the suspected coup plot.
Kpatcha was arrested after trying to seek refuge in the U.S. embassy in Lome, the Togolese capital. He has since been charged with "attacking state security, incitement of criminal activity, rebellion, violent acts with firearms, and complicity in violent acts".
Security forces displayed firearms, communications equipment and vehicles last week that they said they had found in Kpatcha's Lome residence during a raid.
"The maximum penalty for an attempted coup, would be the death penalty. But in principle, Togo has ratified various international conventions that are against the death penalty, so the death penalty is no longer applied by our courts," said Robert Bakai, Togo's national prosecutor.
The case has been the main topic on most radio and tv talk shows and current affairs programme in recent days.
Filip Evegnon, head of the HAAC, says the ban only applies to broadcasts that enlist and relay public opinion.
"The authorities have noticed that it is mainly the interactive programs that are likely to be open to abuse and excesses of all kinds, that is why they took this decision," said Evegnon.
But journalists like Sylvio Combey, who works for the popular radio station Nostalgie, say the HAAC's move is part of a larger plan to gag Togo's independent media.
"It seems that the HAAC wants to muzzle the press in Togo"
Faure has governed the West African country since his election in a violent and flawed vote in 2005.
Togo occupies a sliver of land on the West African coast between Ghana, Burkina Faso and Benin. The former French colony is the world's fourth-largest phosphates producer.
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS
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