On October 5, 2022, a Lomé court suspended the private newspaper Liberté for three months and fined the company and two of its employees a total of 12 million West African francs ($17,800) for publishing misinformation about the prime minister, according to local media and Liberté director Médard Amétépé, who spoke to CPJ by phone.
Liberté filed an appeal, which suspends the decision until the appeal decision, and has continued to publish, Amétépé told CPJ.
The suspension and fine related to the September 21 edition of Liberté, which included an article that alleged that a security guard for Togolese Prime Minister Victoire Dogbé’s car convoy shot and killed a young man, the sources said.
According to Amétépé, on September 22, Dogbé’s office informed the Haute Autorité de l’Audiovisuel et de la Communication, the Togolese media regulator also known by its French acronym HAAC, that the prime minister was not in the area where the incident would have happened. Dogbé’s office then filed a libel suit with the HAAC and the regulator asked the newspaper to publish a correction, which the newspaper did with an apology to Dogbé, Amétépé told CPJ.
Amétépé said that despite the correction and apology, Dogbé’s office filed a separate libel suit in court against the article’s author, Géraud Afangnowou, Amétépé and the newspaper.
The court ruled that the correction and apology were insincere and therefore inadmissible as compensation for the damage caused by the September 21 article, according to Amétépé, adding that the court then suspended the outlet for three months. and fined each of the three defendants — Liberté, Amétépé and Afangnowou — four million West African francs ($5,928) each.
Reached by CPJ via the messaging app, Adolphe Pakka, a communications officer in the Dogbé office, asked CPJ to submit a request for comment “in the normal way.” When CPJ asked Pakka to clarify what he meant by “normal route,” he did not respond.
HAAC spokesperson Diedier Atiota did not respond to an emailed request for comment from CPJ.
Togolese authorities had previously suspended Liberté in 2020 following a complaint filed by the French ambassador to Togo, Marc Vizy.