Rights groups warn Togo over campaign against protest leaders

Rights groups on Thursday raised the alarm over Togo's "campaign of intimidation" against activists responsible for encouraging people to join a months-long protest against the rule of embattled President Faure Gnassingbe.

“The Togolese authorities must stop harassing pro-democracy activists and human rights defenders in relation to the widespread protests that have been taking place across the country,” said Amnesty International, Front Line Defenders and Africans Rising in a joint statement.

“The human rights situation in the country has been deteriorating rapidly since the eruption of pro-democracy protests in August 2017,” they said, expressing “deep concern at the recent campaign of intimidation employed against pro-democracy activists who have been active in mobilising citizens and taking part in the protests.”

They also took aim at the “repressive response of the security forces” accusing them of using live bullets, tear gas and batons against peaceful protesters and bystanders.

A rolling series of anti-government demonstrations have been held across the country nearly every week since August demanding the exit of Gnassingbe after he proposed changes to the constitution that would allow him to stay in power longer.

The three organisations rapped the government for the continued detention of several local leaders who are due to go on trial for a raft of charges including defamation, inciting a riot, violence, arson and threats against public officials.

The statement was issued as mediators were preparing for a round of talks between the government and the opposition in Lome on the controversial reforms, that will be mediated by Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo.

The opposition wants to restrict the presidential term to a maximum of two, five-year stints in office, and introduce a two-round voting system.

On Wednesday, the former archbishop of Lome Philippe Fanoko Kpodzro urged Gnassingbe to step down at the end of his term in 2020, deploring the stubborn refusal to relinquish power as “diabolical”.

And on Thursday, the Togolese armed forces issued a statement renewing their support for the embattled leader, expressing their “unwavering support for (Gnassingbe’s) policy of reconciliation, dialogue and sustainable development.”

Gnassingbe has been in power since 2005. He took over from his father, who ruled the country for 38 years.

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