Togo: Security forces, political parties must exercise restraint after call for fresh protests today

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  • Eight killed-including four shot dead-since mid-August
  • Two soldiers and two civilians shot dead in Sokodé on Monday and Tuesday
  • African pro-democracy activists barred from leaving the country for five days

Source: Relief Web / The Dawn News October 18, 2017

Picture: AFP

Togolese security forces must refrain from using force during peaceful protests, Amnesty International said today. Since mid-August, eight people have been killed, including four shot dead in mass protests calling for constitutional reforms, including a limit on the number of presidential terms.

While the authorities have banned all demonstrations during weekdays, an opposition protest is scheduled to be held today in front of the Parliament and another in front of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) office.

“The human rights situation in Togo is deteriorating at an alarming pace. The authorities’ repressive and draconian approach, and the impunity of the security forces are likely to fuel political tensions and accelerate the radicalization of some protesters,” said François Patuel, Amnesty International’s West Africa Researcher.

“At this critical time in Togo’s history, everyone must act responsibly to end the cycle of violence. While protesters must be able to claim their rights in a peaceful manner, authorities have the duty to respect and protect human rights, including the rights to life, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and justice.”

Imam Djobo Mohamed Alassani, a local representative of the opposition Pan-African National Party (PNP in French) was arrested in the northern town of Sokodé on Monday. This sparked clashes between protesters and security forces, leading to the deaths of two soldiers and two civilians and resulting in the injuries of at least 20 people, according to several sources, including medical staff.

In a statement issued yesterday morning, the government confirmed the arrest of Djobo Mohamed Alassani “following the imam’s repeated incitement and calls to violence, murder and sedition.” According to the government, “organized and structured gangs engaged in unthinkable acts of violence, looting, vandalism and the destruction of public and private properties in Sokodé, Bafilo and in some neighbourhoods in Lomé.” These actions have been portrayed as “acts with terrorist intent”. “In Sokodé, two soldiers guarding the residence of a high profile person were lynched and executed, and their firearms and munitions taken away”, the statement added.

In Sokodé and Lomé, protesters reacted to the arrest of the local PNP leader by erecting barricades on several roads. Police vehicles and buildings were set on fire.

The PNP headquarters in Lomé were also torched. According to eyewitnesses interviewed by Amnesty International, unidentified people aboard five unregistered pick-up vehicles arrived and forcibly opened the main gate. After failing to gain access to the building, they poured petrol and started a fire. Witnesses also told Amnesty International that these people then broke down a door, beat up local residents and fired teargas canisters into the headquarters and neighbouring houses.

“The authorities must conduct impartial and independent investigations to establish the truth on violence committed by protesters or security forces. The persons responsible must be brought before civilian courts and face fair trials,” François Patuel said.

Amnesty International has previously expressed its concern with regard to the heightening of restrictions on fundamental freedoms in Togo since August, particularly with the internet shutdown in September which lasted nine days and disrupted the work of journalists and human rights defenders deployed on the ground to observe the protests.

Four African activists of the “Africans Rising” pro-democracy movement who were on mission in the country were arrested on the night of 12 October and questioned for several hours at the judicial police premises on the nature of their activities in Togo without any charges being brought against them and in the absence of a lawyer.

Their hotel rooms were searched and their IT equipment, attendance lists and passports were confiscated by the police without a search warrant being shown. The police demanded that the activists reveal the passwords for their equipment and that they sign statements.

Despite these demands, the activists were not present while their equipment and telephones were being searched. They were released in the morning on 13 October, but were barred from leaving the country until yesterday 17 October when their equipment and passports were returned.

“The arrest and searches were done outside of the law and were arbitrary. They are an unacceptable form of retaliation against pro-democracy activists,” François Patuel said.

“The authorities must guarantee that activists can do their work without experiencing any form of pressure or intimidation.”

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