Journalists, human rights activists and opposition leaders took to the streets of the Togolese capital, Lome, on Wednesday to protest the recent beating of an editor of an opposition newspaper.
“The government must open a serious investigation into this attack, to identify, try and punish those responsible,” Carlos Ketohou, president of Togo’s Journalists for Human Rights, said during the demonstration.
The government condemned the attack.
Still in a Lome hospital, Jean-Baptiste Dzilan - known as Dimas Dzikodo - said several unidentified men knocked him off his motorcycle on Sunday evening, beat him then made off with his USB storage drive and cell phone.
Carrying signs that read, “An end to impunity in Togo” and “40 years of dictatorship - that's enough,” about 100 journalists, rights activists and opposition leaders marched through Lome to the office of the communication minister.
The protest was held as Togo continues to reel from deadly violence sparked by the death in February of the country’s president for 38 years, Gnassingbe Eyadema, and the ensuing unrest over the election of one of his sons as his successor.
The United Nations in a report last month said the Togolese government bore most of the responsibility for “grave human rights violations” and violence that the UN concluded killed between 400 and 500 and injured thousands.
Speaking from his hospital bed, Dzikodo told IRIN, “Their intention was to eliminate me; their blows were to my head.”
“They beat me up before trying to asphyxiate me with tear gas that they sprayed in my face. Then they stuck some object in my mouth, telling me to swallow it.” He said he later managed to spit out the object.
Coming out to speak to the demonstrators, Togolese Communications Minister and government spokesman Kokou Tozoun said, “The government condemns this attack. Nothing can justify the attack on this journalist.” He then warned journalists against what he said were exaggerated reports of Dzikodo’s injuries.
Tozoun visited Dzikodo in hospital on Monday.
Dzikodo is editor of the weekly opposition newspaper, Forum de la Semaine, which is critical of the Togolese government, now headed by Eyadema’s son, Faure Gnassingbe, who took office after elections in April that the opposition said were rigged.
Dzikodo - who some say is radical in his coverage criticising the government - was detained several times under the Eyadema government and has received death threats in the past.
The press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders said given the tense atmosphere in Togo attacks such as that against Dzikodo are particularly alarming.
“For the sake of maintaining public order, we call for every effort to be made to find and punish the perpetrators,” the group said in a communiqué. “Otherwise, given the still volatile political situation in Togo, the attack on Dzikodo could encourage all those with a score to settle with the press.”
Leonard Vincent, head of RSF’s Africa programme, told IRIN the initial reaction of the communications minister - visiting Dzikodo in hospital and condemning the attack - is encouraging but the important thing will be how the government proceeds. “We have to watch this closely; we can’t be satisfied with just their word.”