Minister gets two journalists imprisoned for reporting theft in his house

The Togolese authorities should release Loic Lawson and Anani Sossou from prison and drop all charges against the journalists who are being abused at the instance of a Minister of State.

Lawson, the editor of “Flambeau des Democrates”, and Sossou, a freelancer, were incarcerated on November 15, 2023, following a defamation complaint by Housing Minister Kodjo Adedze.

The two journalists separately claimed on social media that a sum of 400 million FCFA (a little over 600,000 USD) had been stolen from the Minister’s residence. While the minister has himself reported the burglary to the police without disclosing the amount involved, he avers that the sum mentioned by the journalists was exaggerated and intended to cause him public disaffection.

This is the second time in eight months that journalists have been detained over defamation complaints by government officials. In March, two journalists were sentenced in absentia to three years imprisonment after they had been previously detained over complaints from two Ministers. Another journalist, Joel Egah, who was being tried alongside the two died a few days before the sentence which followed a trial for “publishing false information on social networks” and “insulting authority” upon complaints from the Minister of Commerce, Kodzo Adedze and the Minister of Justice, Pius Agbetomey.

Under Togo’s media law, defamation has been decriminalized. However, the law does not cover social media, so alleged media offences committed on online platforms are prosecuted under the criminal code or digital code.

Meanwhile, the Dynamique pour la majorite du Peuple (DMP), a grouping of Togo’s opposition parties, has condemned the imprisonment of the two journalists and demanded a review of the country’s media code.

“The DMP is of the view that the new digital code which conflates a professional journalist with a social media activist, subjecting them to the same legal rules in case of a court action, constitutes a major regression and a violation of press freedom which had been obtained through an arduous struggle by the Togolese people.”

The Media Foundation for West Africa also condemns the arbitrary imprisonment of Lawson and Sossou and demands their immediate release. We urge the Togolese judiciary to resist pressure from the executive and defend press freedom