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Banned magazine back on sale amid tension over media freedom

(RSF/IFEX) - 26 August 2011 - Reporters Without Borders and Avocats Sans Frontières (Lawyers Without Borders) are delighted that the regional bimonthly Tribune d'Afrique will be back on sale in Togo on 29 August for the first time since a Lomé court banned its distribution and sale a year ago in a libel case brought by Mey Gnassingbé, the president's half-brother and a member of the president's office.

The resumption of distribution in Togo is the result of a 14 July decision by a Lomé appeal court reducing the damages that Tribune d'Afrique is ordered to pay from 60 million CFA francs (90,000 euros) to 10 million CFA francs (15,000 euros) and limiting the distribution ban to a period of three months (which expired last November).

Reporters Without Borders and Avocats Sans Frontières have been providing the magazine with legal and moral support ever since the president's half-brother filed his lawsuit. Based in Benin, Tribune d'Afrique is normally sold in seven of the eight countries that make up the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU).

The magazine's lawyer, Jil-Benoît Kossi Afangbedji, who was hired by Avocats Sans Frontières, said he planned to take the case to Togo's highest appeal court with the aim of getting the entire sentence overturned.

Tribune d'Afrique's reappearance in Togo comes at a time when the state of media freedom in the country is the subject of some dispute. Several hundred people took part in a 5 km march through Lomé on 7 August brandishing placards calling for the preservation of media freedom and the resignation of the head of the National Intelligence Agency (ANR), which is suspected of being behind death threats against some journalists.

The march was organized by SOS Journalist in Danger, a local NGO. The Union of Togo Independent Journalists (UJIT), the Togolese Media Monitoring Centre (OTM) and the National Council of Press Owners (CONAPP) did not support the march.

L'Indépendant Express, a privately-owned weekly, is meanwhile being sued by Julie Béguédou, the head of the rice-important company Elisée Cotrane, over an article published on 16 August accusing her of planning to put 190,000 bags of contaminated rice on sale in Togo. Béguédou has accused the weekly of libel and commercial sabotage.

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