Togo UPDATE: Detained journalists on hunger strike

Three journalists, held at the Lomé civilian prison for over a month now, have begun a 48-hour hunger strike, starting today, Monday, July 14, 2003.

The Managing Director, Philipe Evégnon, and the Editor, Dimas Dzikodo, of the weekly L’Evénement newspaper and Jean de Dieu Colombo Kpakpabia, a reporter with the Nouvel Echo weekly, were arrested and detained for “publishing false information and disturbing public order”. The three detainees say they want to draw public attention to the illegality of their continued detention without trial.

The journalists were arraigned before a Lomé high court last week, but were promptly remanded in prison custody. It is recalled that on June 14, 2003, Dimas Dzikpodo and Jean de Dieu Kpakpabia were arrested in a cyber café while scanning pictures of alleged victims of police repression of opposition demonstrations in Agou, in the plateaux region of Togo, following the controversial June 1, 2003 presidential elections.

Philipe Evégnon was picked up the following day, June 15. The disputed elections returned Gnassingbé Eyadéma, who has been head of state since 1967, to office on another seven-year mandate.

The three journalists were detained for 11 days at the premises of the criminal investigation department (CID) in Lomé, where they were physically tortured for 11 days, before being transferred to the civilian prison. A week after their incarceration at the CID, and following public agitation, Dzikodo and Avégnon were shown to the media. But Kpakpabia was not shown. The CID Commissioner, Têko Koudouovoh Mawuli refused to answer queries from journalists about him.

Later in a communiqué, the police claimed that the pictures were those of “road accident victims”, and that “by publishing [pictures] as proof of an alleged repression of a demonstration, the accused were distorting the truth, misinforming public opinion and inciting communities to revolt and vengeance.”

At least one of the accused, Dimas Djikodo, has denied the charges. Nothing has since been heard of Kpakpabia. The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) appeals to the Togolese authorities to urgently bring the three detained journalists to trial by an independent court, or ensure their prompt and unconditional release.

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