Two journalists in Togo who are currently in hiding were sentenced on Wednesday to three years in prison for insulting public authorities, their lawyer said.
The small West African state, ruled since 2005 by President Faure Gnassingbe, is often accused by rights groups of cracking down on opposition figures and the media.
Ferdinand Ayite and Kokou Kouwonou, also known as Isidore Kouwonou, respectively director and editor of the biweekly publication l’Alternative, were charged in December 2021 with public contempt of authority and propagating falsehoods on social media.
This followed complaints by Justice Minister Pius Kokouvi Agbetomey and Commerce Minister Kodjo Adedze over a YouTube broadcast.
On Wednesday, a court in Lome “sentenced Ferdinand Ayite and Isidore Kouwonou to three years in prison and handed down a three million CFA franc (about $4,900) fine to each”, said their lawyer Elom Kpade.
“An international arrest warrant was issued against them,” he added, adding that he would consult his clients about a possible appeal.
Ayite was briefly jailed alongside another journalist in December 2021.
He and Kouwonou are currently in hiding.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a US organisation that promotes press freedom, has denounced the case.
“Togolese authorities should immediately cease their legal harassment of journalists Ferdinand Ayite and Isidore Kouwonou and allow them to work freely,” said Angela Quintal, the CPJ’s Africa program coordinator.
“Journalistic commentary on issues of public interest should never be criminalized, and the summonses issued to these journalists should be scrapped at once.”