14 February 2005
Government closes three radio stations, one television station for "inciting revolt"
(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has condemned the one month closure of three radio stations and a television station for "inciting civil disobedience and revolt". The closure was announced on the evening of 11 February 2005, just hours after officials forcibly closed and sealed the premises of all four privately-owned media outlets citing "tax reasons".
"Instead of dialogue, President Faure Eyadéma's government has preferred to use repression to silence recalcitrant media," the organisation said. "We are very disappointed at this manoeuvring by the authorities, who first spoke of tax problems before closing these media arbitrarily because of their programme content."
RSF said it was regrettable that the High Council for Broadcasting and Communication (Haute Autorité de l'audiovisuel et de la communication, HAAC), which is supposed to monitor and protect the media, had assisted in this political manoeuvre. "If the Togolese government refuses to let the media relay any other viewpoint than its own, we can only express our increasing concern," the organisation added.
Radio Nana FM, Radio Nostalgie, Radio Kanal FM and TV7 were closed as a result of an order issued by the Lomé lower court in response to a request by HAAC president Georges Agbodjan. The court order said the decision was taken "because of the emergency and exceptional circumstances," referring to the unrest in Togo since President Gnassingbé Eyadéma's death on 5 February and the subsequent takeover by his son, Faure Eyadéma.
The HAAC request accused the four stations of continuing to broadcast communiqués calling on the public to take part in demonstrations "despite formal notices that they should not contribute to calls for civil disobedience, violence and racial hate." The HAAC also accused the stations of "providing media coverage of these illegal demonstrations" and of broadcasting news that caused "a breach of the peace."
A few hours before the court order was issued, a bailiff had gone and closed the premises of all four media because of alleged overdue payments of set up and operational taxes, in amounts ranging from 1,250,000 to 4,000,000 CFA francs (US$2,470 to 7,900; 1,893 to 6,058 euros).
Nana FM manager Peter Dogbé told RSF he had paid 1,450,000 CFA francs by cheque for 2004 and had made a deposit of 150,000 CFA francs (US$296; 227 euros) for 2005 on the afternoon of 11 February. "At around 8:45 p.m. (local time), when I was at home, I learned that a bailiff had gone to the radio station to demand overdue payments for 2001 and 2002. By the time I arrived at the office, the bailiff had already sealed the premises."
The authorities demanded payment of 2,500,000 CFA francs (3,786 euros) in cash from Kanal FM manager Modeste Mesavusu-Ekué. "The situation is the same for everyone, so I don't understand why we are the only ones who are being made to pay up," he said.
Policemen who were dispatched to Radio Nostalgie on the afternoon of 11 February found a group of listeners who had come to defend the station. The police used tear gas to disperse them and the station was closed later in the evening, after the court order was issued.
TV7 management could not be reached. The station has been off the air since the evening of 11 February.
The Union of Free Radio and Television Stations of Togo (L'Union des radios et télévisions libres du Togo, URATEL) is due to meet in the coming days. Local sources said a one-day radio strike may be organised in protest.