The United States Government on Wednesday upbraided its Togolese counterpart for its attempts to suppress dissent and opposition to a perceived creeping dictatorship in the West African country.
In a statement by the US State Department, Washington said, “The United States is deeply concerned about rising levels of violence and restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly in Togo related to protests over proposed constitutional reforms.”
Togolese, at the behest of coalition of opposition political parties and civil society groups, are calling for the resignation of President Faure Gnassingbe, who has been in power since his father died in 2005. Gnassignbe’s father, Eyadema, ruled for nearly four decades, having initially taken power through a coup d’etat.
The two elections – in 2010 and 2015 – since Gnassignbe took power have been marred by controversy, with the opposition calling them fraudulent. Protesters want to see the return of the 1992 constitution that allowed only two presidential terms. In an attempt to appease his opponents, Gnassignbe tabled a draft bill in September that would reform the constitution and reintroduce a two-term limit.
But opposition leaders are sceptical that this would apply retroactively, and fear Gnassignbe would be allowed to run for two more terms. A 14-party opposition coalition and civil society organisations have called for the latest rounds of protests suspecting that President Gnassigbe, who is on his third term in office, will seek re-election in 2020.
The US State Department said, “We are particularly troubled by reports of excessive use of force by security forces and reports that Government-sponsored vigilantes are using force and the threat of force to disrupt protests and intimidate civilians. The United States is also concerned with the Government of Togo’s decision to restrict demonstrations during the workweek and to arrest a prominent imam in the city of Sokode.
“We call on the Government of Togo to uphold its citizens’ human rights, notably their freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and internet freedom and to ensure that all those arrested during demonstrations are afforded the right to due process.
“The United States deplores the violence that has claimed the lives of protesters and security forces alike. We urge all parties to renounce violence. We encourage the Government and opposition to engage in dialogue without preconditions, which is the only solution to the current impasse.”