By Francesca Iwambe
A journalist critical of the Togolese government went missing hours before he was due to appear before the police earlier this week, a colleague said Wednesday amid fears for his life.
Ferdinand Ayite had been under investigation since December 2021 for “contempt of authority” and “spreading false information on social networks,” following complaints from two ministers about a broadcast on YouTube.
“Ferdinand Ayite has been missing since Sunday,” L'Alternative newspaper's editor in chief Isidore Kouwonou told AFP.
“He had received a summons from the Central Service of Criminal Research and Investigation to appear on Sunday at 3:00 pm,” Kouwonou said.
“But he has been untraceable since he left his home for errands around 9:00 am,” the top editor added.
“His wife has also tried in vain to reach him through his contacts. We have also contacted the gendarmerie who have no news of him,” Kouwonou said.
Ayite, the publishing director of the biweekly L'Alternative, had also been due to appear Wednesday before a court in Lome, but was absent, he added.
Kofi Yamgnane, a former French secretary of state who is also Togolese and president of the group Sursaut Togo, warned of the danger facing the journalists.
“Taking account of the Togolese regime's brutal behaviour, one can fear for his life… which would be a new and unacceptable step crossed in the violence experienced by the Togolese,” Yamgnane said.
At the end of December 2021, Ayite had been jailed briefly in Lome with another journalist following their remarks on YouTube.
Amnesty International denounced the “arbitrary detention” of the two journalists and demanded their “immediate” release, denouncing what it called an attack on freedom of expression.
L'Alternative is a newspaper which is critical of the Togolese government. It had been suspended in February 2021 for four months in a case involving housing minister Koffi Tsolenyanu.
The small West African state, which has been ruled since 2005 by President Faure Gnassingbe, is often accused by rights groups of cracking down on opposition figures and the media.