Journalist critical of Togo government reported missing

A journalist critical of the Togolese government went missing hours before he was supposed to appear in court earlier this week, a colleague said Wednesday, raising concerns for his safety.

Ferdinand Ayite had been under investigation since December 2021 for "contempt of authority" and "spreading false information on social networks" after two ministers complained about a YouTube broadcast.

"Ferdinand Ayite has been missing since Sunday," Isidore Kouwonou, the editor-in-chief of L'Alternative, told AFP.

"He had been summoned by the Central Service of Criminal Research and Investigation to appear on Sunday at 3:00 p.m.," Kouwonou explained.

"However, he has been untraceable since leaving his house for errands around 9:00 a.m.," the top editor added.

"His wife has also attempted in vain to contact him through his contacts. "We've also contacted the gendarmerie, who have no information about him," Kouwonou said.

Ayite, the publishing director of the biweekly L'Alternative, was also scheduled to appear in court in Lome on Wednesday but did not appear, he added.

Kofi Yamgnane, a former French secretary of state who is also Togolese and the president of the group Sursaut Togo, has warned journalists of the dangers they face.

"Taking into account the brutal behavior of the Togolese regime, one can fear for his life... which would be a new and unacceptable step crossed in the violence experienced by the Togolese," Yamgnane said.

Ayite and another journalist were briefly imprisoned in Lome at the end of December 2021 after making comments on YouTube.

Amnesty International condemned the two journalists' "arbitrary detention" and demanded their "immediate" release, calling it an attack on freedom of expression.

L'Alternative is a Togolese newspaper that is critical of the government. It had been suspended for four months in February 2021 in a case involving housing minister Koffi Tsolenyanu.

President Faure Gnassingbe has ruled the small West African state since 2005, and rights groups frequently accuse him of cracking down on opposition figures and the media.

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