- Togo's National Assembly has amended the country's press and communications law so that press offences can no longer be punished by terms of imprisonment. The Togolese press law has been known as one of the continent's most repressive and has in the past assured many editors and journalists heavy jail terms.
At an extraordinary session on 24 August, the Togolese Parliament unanimously adopted reforms of the 25 September 2002 law, previously considered one of the most repressive in Africa. In the far-reaching law reform, thirty-four of its 112 articles were amended and four were repealed.
The most significant part of the reform has been the abolishment of prison sentences for press offences in general. Earlier, journalists were sent to prison for "light" press offences such as defamation and insult. The reformed press law, however, left in place heavy fines up to five million CFA francs (around US$ 9000) for such offences.
- Nevertheless the new law is much more liberal and respecting of press freedom than its predecessor, commented today the Paris-based media watchdog group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF). In a press statement, the group "welcomed" the reforms passed yesterday, "that will bring hope to every journalist in the country."
Reform of the press and communication law was among the commitments Togo's government made in Brussels on 14 April this year, with a view to resumption of cooperation between Togo and the European Union (EU). This was broken off by the EU in 1993 due to the repressive nature of the Gnassingbé Eyadema dictatorship.
Togo's Communications Minister, Pitang Tchalla, on 28 April set up an 11-member reform commission drawn from journalists' organisations and unions, the communications ministry, the Togolese media observatory and the broadcast and communications authority. "The new law passed by Togo's deputies almost exactly mirrors the results of their work," according to a statement by the Lomé government.
- A second welcome feature of the new law is the repeal of all articles allowing the Interior Minister to take steps by edict involving seizures or closure of newspapers, which gave rise to many abuses in the past, the government says. This role now was to pass to the country's chief prosecutor, "who will also have to justify any decisions in advance."
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