Photographer beaten up by gendarmes, heavy damages award against newspaper

Reporters Without Borders condemns the use of violence by gendarmes to detain newspaper photographer Didier Ledoux today outside the main Lomé lawcourts, where defamation actions were being heard against two newspapers. The incident came just two weeks after a French military adviser, Lt. Col. Romuald Letondot, threatened Ledoux during a demonstration.

“It is deplorable that Didier Ledoux has been the victim of violence by Togolese gendarmes just two weeks after being accosted and threatened by a French army officer,” Reporters Without Borders. “We urge the authorities to stop treating journalists as enemies. All Ledoux did was photograph a public building. Is it necessary to point out that this was a normal part of his work as a journalist?”

Yesterday’s incident occurred shortly after Ledoux, who works for the weekly Liberté Hebdo, left the lawcourts to take a photocopy of a summons that a newspaper had received.

“As I returned, I look a photo of a corner of the lawcourt building to illustrate my article, as did a cameraman who was with me,” he told Reporters Without Borders. “As I was about to re-enter the building, one of the gendarmes shouted at me and tried to drag me over to their vehicle to tell me something.”

It emerged that the gendarmes wanted to delete the photo he had just taken because they thought they were in it. They dragged him to one of their Toyota 4WD vehicles, gave him a beating, forced him into the vehicle and set off with him for the nearby gendarmerie barracks in the centre of Lomé. “They hit me in the neck and the ribs and pushed me under a bench seat,” he said. “In the car, they told me they had regarded me as a ‘piece of shit’ since 2007.”

Within minutes of his arrest, the Union of Independent Journalists of Togo (UJIT) and the Committee of Newspaper Owners had telephoned the head of the gendarmerie, who immediately promised to have Ledoux released.

Ledoux reappeared at the lawcourts half an hour later. “They released me just before arriving at the gendarmerie barracks,” he said. “They did not take my camera and did not demand the offending photo.” He added that during the incident he received injuries which have been examined by a doctor. He is awaiting the results of tests.

Read the Reporters Without Borders release in French on the 10 August incident in Lomé involving Ledoux and the French military adviser.

Shortly before Ledoux’s arrest today, the Benin-based regional fortnightly Tribune d’Afrique was ordered to pay 60 million CFA francs (90,000 euros) in damages to Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé’s half-brother, Mey Gnassingbé, for accusing him of involvement in drug-trafficking

The court also banned Tribune d’Afrique from sale in Togo and fined it an additional 3 million CFA francs on charges of defamation and disseminating false information. The newspaper said it would appeal. The offending article was headlined: “Drug-trafficking at the top. Togo involved. Mey Gnassingbé named.”

In today’s other case, President Gnassingbé is suing the weekly L’Indépendant-Express for 100 million CFA francs (150,000 euros) in damages for reporting in its 22 June issue that he and the former captain of the national soccer team, Emmanuel Adebayor, were disputing the favours of Miss Togo 2004. The case was adjourned until 29 September.