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Parliament passes amendment to strengthen powers of broadcast authority

(MFWA/IFEX) - Togolese authorities have approved an amendment to the act establishing the High Authority of Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC), giving it power to impose severe sanctions on the country's media.

The new law passed by the National Assembly on October 30, 2009 allows the HAAC, after only a formal public notice, to resort to "withdrawal of authorisation and seizure of the equipment." The law also allows for "the suspension of publication for a period of six months together with the withdrawal of press cards."

Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)'s correspondent reported that the passage of the law has received widespread condemnation from media groups and freedom of expression organisations, as well as from the main opposition political party, Union of the Forces for Change (UFC), which boycotted the amendment process. The second main opposition party, the Committee of Action for Renewal (CAR) abstained from the vote.

The correspondent said that in a communiqué issued on November 2, a coalition of media groups and freedom of expression organisations urged journalists and advocates of free expression to be resolute and join forces with it to protest against the new law.

The coalition, which included the Togo Union of Independent Journalists (UJIT), the Togo Media Observatory (OTM), the National Council of Media Owners of Togo (CONAPP) and Journalists for Human Rights (JDHO-Togo), said in the communiqué that the amendment betrayed "a clear intention on the part of the authorities to gag the private press during the 2010 presidential elections."

The media groups expressed their intention to take to the streets in protest, saying the action "dangerously compromises the practice of the journalistic profession and constitutes a real setback for (Togo's) hard-won press freedom."

MFWA adds its voice to that of the coalition and urges the members not to relent in their efforts but to pressure authorities to withdraw the repressive law.

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