27 Apr 2013
Togo Opposition Muzzled Ahead of Elections
Note: This is my translation of the L’Express news item Togo : l’opposition muselée avant les élections, which appeared on the L’Express website on Saturday, 27 April 2013.
Togo Opposition Muzzled Ahead of Elections
Two markets are set on fire, and that’s enough to “burn up” the leaders of the Togolese opposition, who have been indicted without a warrant or a trial. Meanwhile, the party of the head of state, Faure Gnassingbé, is mounting a campaign for upcoming legislative elections, but the election date is not yet known…
On the Togolese public television station, last Saturday, 20 April, President Faure Gnassingbé distributed toolkits to 300 craftsmen in Niamtougou, in northern Kara, the fief of the family clan that has ruled over the country for more than half a century; the elections — legislative and local — are on their way, and for the Union for the Republic (UNIR), the ruling party, the campaign has already started.
Suzanne Kafui Nukafu Dogbevi examines the conquering smile of the head of state, then changes the channel. This militant of the National Alliance for Change (ANC), the main opposition group, was just locked up for two and a half months by the dreaded Intelligence and Investigation Service (SRI) of the Togolese police force. Her interrogation started the day after the fires that took place at the markets in Kara and Lomé, on 9 and 11 January: “They wanted to make me say that I had paid some young guys to burn down the Lomé market,” she explains, “before they offered me money to officially denounce the leaders of the ‘Let’s Save Togo’ Collective [CST].”
In total, thirty-five members of CST, which for a year has unified human-rights organizations and the principal opposition movements, have been charged with “gathering of wrongdoers” in the investigation of these fires. Indictments without arrest warrants, or trials in the end, arriving along with the local and legislative elections, postponed several times, which are now announced for this spring. An unfortunate confluence of circumstances, or the hazards of a “mockery of democracy,” the formula adopted by the French Socialist Party in a communiqué?
“There are definitely some troubling coincidences,” admits Gilbert Barawa. But the Minister of Regional Administration has something else in mind: “The fires took place right at the start of the ‘Last Towers of Jericho,’ a three-day demonstration orchestrated by the CST, with the stated objective of toppling the regime. So then,” he pretends to ask himself, “was it a simple coincidence or an operation planned out by the opposition?”
Torture and Settling of Scores
Still, on 26 March, Mohamed Loum, the main prosecution witness, went back on the accusations leveled against the leaders of the CST. In a letter addressed to Jean-Pierre Fabre, the ANC leader, he says he was tortured before he made his confession. The vice-president of the ANC, Isabelle Ameganvi, says she’s shocked “to hear talk of torture, while Togo is already accused of such wrongdoing in the Kpatcha case, which is being debated right now before the ECOWAS Court of Justice.” This alludes to the fate of Faure’s half-brother and rival, suspected of having planned a coup d’état, who has been held in detention since April 2009. According to a report by the National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH), 33 people who’ve been arrested were then tortured by the Togolese intelligence service. The report was published three years later by the government, in a falsified version. The president of the CNDH revealed the original version of the report elsewhere, in exile, which triggered the anger of the UN Committee Against Torture.
“At the moment, we’re dealing more with cases of mistreatment than torture,” qualifies Louis Rodolphe Efoé Attiogbe, a member of the Collective of Associations Against Impunity in Togo (CACIT), which has visited most of the people being held under indictments in the market-fire cases. Still, in these conditions, Gery Taama, president of the New Togolese Engagement, a party “neither part of the ruling party nor of the CST,” doesn’t see how there could be free and democratic elections: “In the middle of an electoral pre-campaign, they forbid Fabre, the main person of the opposition, to leave the capital city, and they indict his whole political team… It really seems like this is a sort of settling of scores.”
Emmanuel Haddad, à Lomé, publié le 27/04/2013 à 10:12