- Militants of the Togolese opposition attacked a TV crew of the state broadcaster, which is seen as strongly favouring the ruling party. While the opposition has apologised for the incident, human rights groups fear that this may be only the beginning of violence between rivalling parties in the upcoming election campaign.
In the first election violence incident this year, a crew from the state-owned television station TVT was attacked and threatened during a rally by the opposition Union of Forces for Change (UFC) on 26 March. Demonstrators were demanding the postponement of the 24 April presidential election as a group of UFC militants attacked the TVT crew.
The TV crew arrived in a vehicle bearing the station's logo at the site of the UFC rally, in the Lomé district of Bê-Château, on the morning of 26 March. Reporter Bangna Kondor, camera operator Gilles Obnassé and soundman Adjété Sossou were accosted and insulted on their arrival by a group of youths who told them they could not cover the demonstration.
The crew consulted the UFC head of security, Evans Welbeck, who assured them they could stay and do their work. But midway through the rally, the crew was attacked by a group of "over-excited youths" who broke the rear window of their vehicle and threatened to kill them. At this point, UFC security officers suggested they leave the scene in light of the crowd's mood.
UFC Secretary-General Jean-Pierre Fabre told the Paris-based group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) that his party "completely disassociates itself from this violence" and has adopted "measures to ensure that such incidents are not repeated." RSF had stated strong concerns after the incident and urged all Togo's presidential candidates "to appeal to their supporters not to use violence against journalists."
- The violence against the TVT crew is all the more worrying as it comes amid a series of threats against journalists accused of bias in an extremely tense political context, RSF said in a statement. "Attacks against the press are often a harbinger of greater violence to come," the press freedom group noted.
The RSF appeal therefore was directed to all the four Togolese presidential candidates, regardless of their political sensibilities, to "make a public appeal to their supporters not to attack the press," the group said, adding that "such an initiative seems essential in order to ensure a calm election campaign."
The attack on the TVT crew had come amid "an increasingly alarming climate of intimidation for many journalists," who have been accused of either being agents for the ruling Rally for the Togolese People (RPT) or opposition spokesmen.
In addition to TVT journalists, accused by the opposition of bias, some foreign correspondents - especially those who are white, who are usually assumed rightly or wrongly to be French - have been the target of verbal attacks in recent weeks by demonstrators critical of France's policies towards Togo.
Independent radio and television stations became the targets of censorship in February when President Gnassingbé Eyadéma died and his son, Faure Gnassingbé, seized power, setting off a political crisis. Seven radio stations and two television stations were closed on various pretexts, ranging from "inciting revolt" to "tax reasons". All have since been allowed to resume broadcasting.
Since Mr Gnassingbé stepped down from power and agreed to the holding of new presidential elections, the political climate has calmed somewhat in Lomé. The united opposition, which is presenting the UFC leader as their joint candidate, has been demanding a later election date to assure that the polls are free and fair.
Despite the ongoing struggle to have the election postponed, the ruling RTP and the opposition earlier this week signed a joint declaration of good conduct during the electoral campaign. All parties agreed to "preserve social peace" and "respect public order."
Important to the opposition, the agreement with the ruling party also foresees the rejection of "all forms of intimidation, defamatory claims and fuelling abuse or violence against any institution, a political party, a personality or any citizen." Finally, the agreement included passages enabling the opposition to monitor the voting and counting processes.
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