Rights’ Violation: ECOWAS Court Fines Togolese Govt. 16m CFA

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The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice has ordered the government of Togo to pay 16 million CFA Francs as compensation for shutting down internet twice in 2017.

A statement issued by the court on Friday said the the panel of three Justices found that shutting the internet voliolated the rights of the plaintiffs to freedom of expression.

On the three-member panel of the court were Honourable Justices Gberi-Be Ouattara (presiding) and Dupe Atoki.

By the action which the court ruled as a violation of rights, the government was ordered to pay the sum to Amnesty International in Togo, six other locally based non-governmental organisations and a Togolese journalist”.

Delivering judgment in a suit filed by the eight plaintiffs, the court declared that it has jurisdiction to entertain the case contrary to the defence of the government.

The court also directed the government to ‘enact and implement laws, regulations and safeguards to meet its obligations with respect to the right of freedom of expression in accordance with international human rights instruments.’

In the judgment delivered by Justice Keikura Bangura, the Judge Rapporteur, also directed the government to ‘take all necessary measures to guarantee non-occurrence of the situation in future.’

In suit no.ECW/CCJ/APP/61/18 filed before the court on Dec. 17, 2018,  Amnesty International Togo;  L’Institut des Medias pour la Democratie et les Droit de l’Homme; La Lanterne, l’Action des Chretiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture, l’Association des Victimes de Torture au Togo; La Ligue des Consommateurs du Togo; et l’Association Togolaise pour l’Education aux Droits de l’Homme et la Democratie, all local non-governmental organisations involved in promoting human rights protection and Houefa Akpedja Kouassi, a Togolese online journalist, claimed their right to freedom of expression was violated by the shutdown.

The eight plaintiff, Ms Kouassi said the shutdown of internet access also prevented her from performing her legitimate professional obligation, amounting to infringement on her fundamental right.

The plaintiffs had through their counsels Mojirayo Ogunlana Nkanga, Lucy Claridge and Padraig Hughes urged the court to declare the government liable for the violation of the fundamental human rights of its citizens.

Particularly, their right to freedom of expression, resulting from the internet shutdown implemented on the orders of the defendant.

In their response, the defendant urged the court to dismiss the case on the grounds that internet access was shut down in the interest of national security and that the first to seventh plaintiffs lacked the legal personality to approach the court.

This submission of the defendant was, however, countered by the plaintiffs in their response in which they argued that there was no law in force at the time of the internet access shut down to justify its action. (NAN)

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