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New law makes it easier to impose sanctions on media in Togo

(MFWA/IFEX) - On February 19, The Togolese Parliament passed a new law granting the media regulatory body — the High Authority for Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC) — discretionary powers to impose sanctions on the media without recourse to judicial processes, as was the practice under the previous law.

According to the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)'s correspondent, Article 64 of the new law specifically empowers the head of the regulatory body to sanction or compel a media organisation to withdraw a publication.

The nine-member regulatory body is chaired by an appointee of the president, along with three more directly appointed by the president. The remaining five members are elected by the government-dominated parliament.

It is, therefore, feared that the granting of discretionary powers to the regulatory body could further cripple media freedom in the country.

The new law contravenes Article 26 of the Togolese Constitution which states that “the media cannot be subject to any preliminary authorisation, be cautioned or censored or [be subject to] other barriers. No publication shall be banned from circulation except by virtue of a court decision.”

A previous law passed in 2009 granted the HAAC additional powers to impose severe sanctions on the media. The law allowed the HAAC to withdraw licenses, seize equipment and/or suspend a publication for a period of six months.

In October 2011, the MFWA's submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review on Togo recommended that the government should repeal the 2009 law, which was considered to be repressive of media freedom in Togo.

However, on February 19, heavily armed security forces stopped a demonstration against the passage of the new law organised by the Togolese Press Observatory (OTM) and many other media associations and groups including the Union of Independent Journalists of Togo (UJIT).

The security forces blocked all entry points and drove out any journalist who came close to the Parliament House, with the exception of journalists from state-owned and pro-government media houses.

The MFWA calls on the Togolese government to improve the freedom of expression and media rights environment in Togo by withdrawing this law. Already, Togo has been rated a “partly free” freedom of expression country over the years, as evidenced in various international FoE reports.

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