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New Law Tightens Press Freedom in Togo

New Law Tightens Press Freedom in Togo
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Legislation recently passed in Togo gives the government power to seize equipment, suspend and even organize hearings against media professionals that make what it deems "serious errors". Media rights activists say this is an attempt to stifle press freedom before next year's presidential elections.

The Togolese government has passed a new law, which media rights advocates say threatens the freedom of journalists. The Africa Director for the International Federation of Journalists, Gabriel Baglo, says Togo's state-operated commission, the High Authority of Audio-visual and Communication, now has too much power to muzzle journalists.

"This media commission, at any time they think that the media outlet or the media organization have breached any, or have committed any libel, they can just withdraw the license without even giving it to the courts. Because normally it should be a court decision," Baglo said.

According to the International Federation of Journalists, after the High Authority makes a public injunction against a news organization, they can then proceed to seize the organization's equipment as well as suspend the publication for six months.

Baglo says he thinks this is a way to stifle freedom of expression before the country's upcoming presidential elections

"Having this kind of law at the, some months before the elections, for us is a way of muzzling the media," Baglo said.

Baglo adds the International Federation of Journalists has called for Togo's government to change the law before the elections that are scheduled for March, 2010.