The IPI global network is alarmed to learn that the mobile phones of two Togolese journalists, Loïc Lawson, and Anani Sossou, were targeted in 2021 by digital surveillance and spying software Pegasus. This spying was revealed in a month-long investigation carried out by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in collaboration with Digital Security Lab.

Lawson works with the newspaper Flambeau des Démocrates and Sossou is a freelance journalist. This incident adds to the case of three other Togolese journalists, Ferdinand Ayité, Luc Abaki, and Carlos Ketohou, who were reported to be part of a previous list of about 180 journalists from across the globe who were targeted by digital surveillance. This list was exposed as part of the Pegasus Project carried out by an international consortium of investigative journalists in 2021.

‘’The traces of spying software Pegasus found on (the mobile phones of) these two journalists have a chilling effect on the industry and journalists in the country’’, a journalist in Togo told IPI on the condition of anonymity. “If you are a critical and independent journalist, the risk of having been under digital surveillance is high. This revelation also shows that press freedom is under constant repression in the country. Something must be done to curb this worrying trend, which has become global”, the journalist added.

IPI Africa Advocacy and Partnerships Lead Nompilo Simanje called for an investigation into the reports of spyware use.

“It is appalling to learn that these journalists were targeted by spyware, undermining their right to privacy, media freedom, and the confidentiality of their sources”, she said. “Authorities in Togo must urgently investigate the surveillance of Loïc Lawson and Anani Sossou, determine the wider extent of spying on journalists, and hold those responsible to account. Safeguards must be urgently put in place to prevent the abuse of spyware in the future.”

Lawson and Anani are also facing civil prosecution over a defamation case brought against them by State Minister Kodzo Adedze. The case stems from comments made on social media by the duo related to an incident of theft in the house of the minister in question. Following their comments on social media, on November 15, 2023, the duo was arrested, and detained for 18 days before being provisionally released on December 1.

On January 31, their legal counsel filed an appeal before the court to challenge the charges laid against them and the procedure leading to their arrest and detention. The court is expected to decide on the appeal on February 14, according to information received by IPI. 

Journalists in Togo face pressure from lawfare resulting both from the press code that criminalizes press offenses and from the cybercrime law, which has been used to crack down on critics online. 

IPI recently spearheaded the submission of a joint letter to the Ad Hoc Committee on the UN Cybercrime Treaty by civil society and media organizations in Africa calling on negotiators to ensure the treaty does not become yet another tool for authoritarian governments in Africa to surveil journalists.