Human Rights Defenders Must Be Protected
The Togolese authorities must take urgent measures to protect human rights defenders in the exercise of their work, Amnesty International, the Togolese Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, Front Line Defenders and the West African Human Rights Network said today.
On the morning of 21 April, François Doudji and Bénit Okouto, two members of the Collectif des associations contre l'impunité au Togo (CACIT), and the journalist Teko-Ahatefou Aristo, who were carrying out an observation mission during a police intervention at the house of the political opponent Agbéyomé Kodjo, were arrested and held in police custody at the premises of the Central Intelligence and Criminal Investigation Service (SCRIC).
While they were near the security roadblock, the activists and the journalist were stopped by a police officer who had refused them access to the political opponent's house. They were wearing service jackets and had given their identity to one of the security officials who was present.
The arrest and detention of the three activists sends a worrying signal for human rights defenders in Togo. They were arrested solely for exercising their legitimate right to document the human rights situation and inform public opinion in an impartial manner.
According to the information gathered by the signatory organisations, the arrested activists were left standing exposed for more than an hour in the sun with other persons arrested at the home of the opponent. They were interrogated and released late in the evening of 21 April without being able to communicate with their relatives, their mobile phones being confiscated by SCRIC officers.
Togo is committed to protecting human rights organizations before international human rights mechanisms, including the Human Rights Committee, and has signed the Declaration on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.
Despite a clear willingness of the authorities to recognize the work of human rights defenders, Amnesty International, the Togolese Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, Front Line Defenders and the West African Human Rights Network denounce this arbitrary arrest and the degrading treatment suffered by the activists.
The organisations call on the authorities to ensure that human rights defenders are not subjected to threats and intimidation by the security forces during their work. They call on the authorities to adopt a law protecting human rights defenders.
The security forces arrested the opponent Agbéyomé Kodjo who is contesting the results of the presidential election of 22 February 2020. According to a statement by the public prosecutor, "the arrest of Mr. Gabriel Messan Agbéyomé Kodjo was made necessary by the fact that having been invited on three occasions to report to the Central Service of Research and Criminal Investigation (SCRIC) for questioning in the context of the required judicial investigation, he deliberately refused to comply with these invitations on the pretext of his poor health, and then a legal action for annulment of the resolution of the National Assembly that lifted his immunity."
The acts of which he is accused include "aggravated disturbance of public order, undermining the internal security of the State, illegal use of the emblems of the Republic".
The security forces used force by breaking down the doors of the opponent's house in order to arrest him, his family members and relatives. They were taken to the SCRIC for investigation. Several members of the coalition "Dynamique Monseigneur Kpodzro", which supported Agbéyomé Kodjo's candidacy, were summoned to be heard by the investigators.
The official results proclaimed by the Constitutional Court gave the outgoing President Faure Gnassingbé the victory in the presidential election of 20 February.
Togolese Coalition of Human Rights Defenders
Front Line Defenders
International Service for Human Rights
West African Human Rights Network