Togolese opposition parties and civil society organizations Friday denounced the incarceration for "defamation" of two journalists who had claimed on social media that a minister had around the equivalent of 600,000 euros ($650,000) stolen from his home.
The DMP, a collective of opposition political parties and civil society organizations, demanded the two journalists, Loic Lawson and Anani Sossou, be freed after their postings about Minister of State Kodjo Adedze.
The opposition Democratic Forces for the Republic, or FDR, party also said it "condemns with the utmost vigor this continued relentlessness of the same Minister Adedze against journalists who only do their job of providing information."
Lawson, publishing director of the newspaper Flambeau des Démocrates, and Sossou, an independent journalist, were sent this week to prison in Lome for "defamation and attack on the honor of the minister and incitement to revolt."
The pair had said on social networks that Adedze, the minister of Urban Planning, Housing and Land Reform, had 400 million West African CFA francs stolen from his home.
The minister, who had declared a burglary to the police without the amount stolen being made public, filed a complaint against them.
The two journalists then retracted their statement by publishing on Facebook that "extensive investigations and sources close to the matter attest that the amount communicated was overestimated and would not reach the sum of 400 million."
In Togo, social media networks are excluded from the scope of application of the law relating to the press and communication code, which came into force this year. In offenses related to social media, prosecution is based on the penal code.
Joining the criticism with a statement over the arrest, the Togolese Press Authority, or PTT, one of the organizations of press owners in the West African country, "expresses its indignation and concern at the direction this affair is taking" and stressed that "deprivation of liberty should not be the rule."
The journalists' rights organization Reporters Without Borders, or RSF, also called for the immediate release of the two men.
“We are concerned by the summons and detention of journalists in Togo," Sadibou Marong, director of RSF’s sub-Saharan Africa desk, told AFP. "The signs that we see emerging show a desire by the authorities to circumvent the press law to arrest and detain journalists."
Last March, two Togolese journalists were sentenced in absentia to three years in prison by the Lome high court, for contempt and "propagation of falsehoods on social networks," following complaints from two ministers, including Adedze.