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Newspaper suspended for exposing President's brother's crimes

A Togolese court has indefinitely suspended the distribution of a Benin newspaper after crippling it with a defamation charge and heavy fines for publishing an article linking Togolese President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé's brother with drug trafficking, report the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). A newspaper photographer covering the court case was violently detained by gendarmes.

"Tribune d'Afrique", a private bi-monthly based in Benin, has a bureau in the Togolese capital of Lomé. The paper is sold and distributed in seven West African countries, with its highest circulation in Togo. Mey Gnassingbé sued the newspaper in May after it published the first of a three-part series, titled "The white powder darkening presidential palaces: Drug trafficking at the top of the state." It was charged with publishing false news and defamation.

The judge ordered the newspaper to pay US$113,000 to Mey Gnassingbé and fined Togo-based editor Aurel Kedoté, reporter Cudjoe Amekudzi and chief executive officer Marlène de la Bardonnie US$3,800 each. In a punishing twist, the newspaper has been ordered to publish the judgement in three newspapers with large circulation or risk paying US$200 each day it refuses to carry out the order. And the court has also ordered the destruction of copies of "Tribune d'Afrique" with the offending article, currently being sold.

The paper's critical coverage of the Togolese state has resulted in threats from officials and the government-controlled media regulatory authority and loss of government advertising revenue.

Didier Ledoux, a reporter for the privately owned "Liberté" daily newspaper covering the defamation trial, was arrested and beaten by security officers for photographing the court building. The gendarmes wanted to delete the photo he had just taken because they thought they were in it. The Union of Independent Journalists of Togo (UJIT) and the Committee of Newspaper Owners immediately called the head of the gendarmerie and Ledoux was released.

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