LOME (AFP) – Togo’s parliament Tuesday passed a new law that allows the west African country’s media watchdog to impose stiff sanctions on news outlets without going through a court of law.
The law empowers the High Authority on Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC) to suspend or withdraw media bodies’ operating licences.
It passed overwhemingly with 58 votes for, none against and three abstentions — by lawmakers of the opposition Action Committee for Renewal.
Journalists working for private media were prevented from witnessing the vote, and security forces dispersed dozens of reporters from independent media who attempted to stage a protest outside the parliament building.
Jacques Djakouti, head of Togo’s national council of media owners, slammed the legislation, lamenting “a veritable decline in press freedom in Togo”.
He told AFP the council would challenge the new law in court.
The HAAC has five members chosen by the national assembly and four by the president.
Togo, which is set to have legislative elections by late March, has been led by the same family for more than four decades.
President Faure Gnassingbe’s father Gnassingbe Eyadema ruled the country for 38 years with an iron fist until his death in 2005, after which the military installed his son in power.
Faure Gnassingbe has since won elections in 2005 and 2010, although the opposition disputes these victories.