A pan-African delegation of activists on a fact-finding mission to Togo has found out the extent of the ongoing state clampdown on pro-democracy protests.
Just days after arriving and meeting with local civil society groups on the ground in mid-October, the three-person delegation were detained by police and had their phones, laptops and passports confiscated, while local groups were interrogated about the meetings.
Widespread pro-democracy protests erupted across Togo, and in cities in neighbouring countries and Europe, in August. Led by the political opposition, protesters are demanding an end to the country’s 50-year ruling dynasty. They are calling for constitutional reforms, including the introduction of two-term limits for president. President Faure Gnassingbe, already in his third term, has been in power since 2005, when he took the reigns after the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema who ruled Togo for 38 years.
As part of Africans Rising solidarity with social movements and civil society groups, engaged in struggles for justice, peace and dignity, a delegation from African Rising embarked on a fact‐finding mission to Togo on Monday, 9 October 2017.
The purpose of this mission was to better understand the dynamics of the public protests and to explore ways to play a constructive role in efforts to secure lasting, peaceful and just resolutions to the political crisis facing the country. To that end, the delegation prepared to meet with representatives of government, civil society organisations (CSOs) such as Front Citoyen Togo Debout (Togo Stand Up Citizen Front) and other stakeholders.
The delegation was made up of Gambian activist and Africans Rising coordinator Muhammed Lamin Saidykhan and activists Rohkaya Dieye and, Chantal Nare from Senegal and Burkina Faso respectively, with local support from local civil society advocate Kevin Soncy on the ground.
After arriving in Lome on October 9, and meeting with prominent grassroots movement Front Citoyen Togo Debut, the delegation took a 6-hour road journey to the north, where the Togolese army has been accused of killing, torturing and forcing protesters to flee to Ghana.
Security forces have been working to prevent peaceful demonstrations and rallies from taking place.
In the northern cities of Sokode and Bafilo, they met with a wide variety of citizen groups including youth, students, women, farmers, teachers, journalists and faith-based groups for briefings on the situation on the ground there.
The team also met with representatives of government and the political opposition.
On Friday, October 13, the Togo Police’s Serious Crimes Unit detained the Africans Rising delegation, confiscating their laptops and passports. The mission heard that the unit had begun questioning local CSOs about their meetings with the delegation.
Despite interventions and appeals from various quarters, the authorities refused to return the team’s passports and communication devices while they were in the country.
Said Muhammed Lamin Saidykhan, Africans Rising Coordinator: “The response of the authorities to our mission demonstrates the government’s intention to crush the peaceful voice of the people, in Togo and across Africa, calling for respect for democratic values and human rights.”
The delegation was eventually handed back their passports and property as they prepared to leave Togo. However, in the light of the police actions, we remain concerned for the welfare of civil society members and organisations that engaged with the Africans Rising mission and call on the authorities to respect and protect the democratic right to freedom of association and assembly.
Since then, efforts to violently crush the protest movement continued. On October 18, at least five people were killed after security forces opened fire on demonstrators in two days of protests in Sokode, where the Africans Rising mission had met grassroots organisations, and the capital, Lome. In other cities, police have fired teargas to break up demonstrations.
Further protests are planned for this week.
Africans Rising continues to urge the government to stop its violent suppression of peaceful, democratic protests and to engage its people in sincere dialogue to find lasting solutions to the crisis.
For more information, please contact:
Muhammed Lamin Saidykhan