Togolese Authorities Release Journalist Apollinaire Mewenemesse With Conditions

Dakar — The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release of journalist and La Dépêche publishing director Apollinaire Mewenemesse and calls for Togolese authorities to lift the conditions placed on his freedom, drop all charges against him, and cease criminalizing journalism.

On April 9, a court in Lomé, Togo's capital city, released Mewenemesse under judicial supervision, according to his lawyer Darius Atsoo, who spoke to CPJ, and news reports. Atsoo told CPJ that the court prohibited Mewenemesse from making any statements related to his legal proceedings, restricted him from leaving the territory of the Greater Lomé district without permission, and seized his passport. Additionally, Mewenemesse was asked to appear twice a month at the court to sign with the court registry and to make himself available for future court dates, Astoo said.

Mewenemesse was arrested on March 26 and charged on March 28 with spreading false news and various anti-state charges in connection to a February 28 La Dépêche report that questioned the findings in a murder trial of an army officer. Earlier in March, Togo's media regulator suspended the privately owned weekly newspaper for three months over the same report.

"Togolese authorities must lift the tight constraints placed on journalist Apollinaire Mewenemesse as conditions for his release and drop all charges against him," said Angela Quintal, head of CPJ's Africa program, from New York. "Mewenemesse's two weeks in detention should never have happened and Togolese authorities should reform their country's laws and regulations to ensure journalists' work is not criminalized."

Journalists in Togo have faced an escalation of criminal prosecutions in connection with their work in recent years. On April 8, Togo's government issued a warning over the "dissemination of false information on social networks, which could cause disturbances to public order." Such offenses, the government said, would be punished by the penal code and other texts and regulations, including the press and communications code.

In October 1998, CPJ wrote to the Togolese government protesting Mewenemesse's arrest at that time and seizure of the October 15, 1998, issue of his newspaper following a defamation complaint filed by Assani Tidjani, Togo's then defense minister.

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