· At least four deaths during protests in less than a week, including three by firearm
· Verified video confirms the location where a 12-year-old boy was shot dead
· New cyber criminality law unduly restricts freedom of expression
Deadly protests and violence in Togo have hit the country ahead of contested parliamentary elections on 20 December, Amnesty International said Thursday, as it urged the authorities to properly investigate and sanction all those responsible for a series of deaths which occurred during protests over the past week.
At least four people have been killed in protest-related violence since 8 December, including a 12-year-old boy who was shot in the head. Clashes between protesters and security forces have been reported around the country. Many protesters were injured by gunshot wounds in the capital Lomé and the northern city of Sokodé. Protesters also burned tyres and erected barricades in the street. Four members of the security forces were injured.
“Even after a child was killed, Togo’s authorities continue to fuel the violence by deploying military officers carrying firearms to protest sites, which risks exacerbating an already tense situation,” said Evelyne Petrus Barry, Amnesty International’s West and Central Africa Regional Director.
“As pressure mounts ahead of the elections, we are urging the authorities to respect the right to peaceful assembly and take all necessary measures to ensure no more lives are lost in these clashes. They must also carry out thorough, independent and impartial investigations into the deaths of protesters and ensure all those found responsible are brought to justice.”
Amnesty International’s digital verification experts were able to authenticate a series of videos of demonstration sites which appear to have been filmed on 8 December.
One video confirmed that the 12-year-old boy was shot in the neighborhood of Togblékopé around 5 km north of the capital Lomé. Another video shows a member of the security forces in a black pick-up car aiming at a group of protestors with a scoped rifle.
The Ministry of Security and Civilian Protection later acknowledged the vehicle was boarded by members of the armed forces, including the military chief of staff. Two other persons were killed in Sokodé on 10 December and dozens more resulted injured.
Amnesty International spoke to a 19-year-old man in Sokodé who received a gunshot to his foot. He told Amnesty International:
“On 10 December, I was sitting at the public square when I saw people running. When I got up I felt a burn and realized that blood was coming out of my left foot. (…) When I was brought to the hospital, they removed things [pellets] from my wounds…”
Earlier this month, a group of 14 opposition parties rejected the date of 20 December for the parliamentary elections and called for reforms for fair and transparent elections.
The protests were scheduled between 8 and 18 December. On 6 December, the Minister of Territorial Administration issued a statement banning the protests citing a “very high risk of serious breaches to public order”.
Amnesty International considers the demonstrations in the country were banned on vague and arbitrary grounds and contravene Togo’s international obligations to respect the right to peaceful assembly. Despite the ban, the opposition decided to go ahead with the protests, which were then dispersed by security forces.
The violence comes in the context of an intensifying crackdown on the right to freedom of expression in Togo.
On 7 December, the National Assembly of Togo adopted a law on cybersecurity which significantly restricts freedom of expression. Among other things, it criminalizes the publication of false information with up to three years in prison; breaches of public morality with up to two years in prison; and the production, diffusion or sharing of data which undermine “order, public security or breach human dignity”.
The law also contains vague terrorism and treason related provisions which carry hefty sentences of up to 20 years in prison, and could easily be misused against whistle-blowers and others reporting on human rights abuses. The law also grants additional powers to police, particularly in terms of surveillance of communication or IT equipment, without adequate judicial control.
“Authorities should repeal or substantially amend this law to ensure it is brought in line with international human rights law and standards,” said Evelyne Petrus Barry.