Is the U.S. supporting the demonstrations in Togo?
BY JIBRIL TURE
In a press statement released on Tuesday, the U.S. State Department condemned the “excessive use of force by security forces and reports that Government-sponsored vigilantes are using force and the threat of force to disrupt protests and intimidate civilians.” The press statement also says: “We encourage the Government and opposition to engage in dialogue without preconditions, which is the only solution to the current impasse.”
After the statement was relayed today, Wednesday, by Radio France International in its morning Africa newscast at 6:30 GMT on the FM dial in Togo, it is being interpreted by some members of the Togolese civil society and demonstrators as the expression of the U.S. government’s support for the uprising: “Even the United States is supporting us. That galvanizes us, so we are waiting for instructions for new demonstrations,” Komla, a demonstrator who did not reveal his full name for fear of reprisals, tells The African in the Be neighborhood in Lome.
The press statement reads in full:
The United States is deeply concerned about rising levels of violence and restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly in Togo related to protests over proposed constitutional reforms. We are particularly troubled by reports of excessive use of force by security forces and reports that Government-sponsored vigilantes are using force and the threat of force to disrupt protests and intimidate civilians. The United States is also concerned with the Government of Togo’s decision to restrict demonstrations during the workweek and to arrest a prominent imam in the city of Sokode.
We call on the Government of Togo to uphold its citizens’ human rights, notably their freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and internet freedom and to ensure that all those arrested during demonstrations are afforded the right to due process.
The United States deplores the violence that has claimed the lives of protesters and security forces alike. We urge all parties to renounce violence. We encourage the Government and opposition to engage in dialogue without preconditions, which is the only solution to the current impasse.
In reality, the wording and the tone of the press statement does not depart from the way the U.S. government usually reacts to the brutal repression of demonstrators anywhere in the world, be they in Africa, Asia or elsewhere.
The freedom of opinion, a sacrosanct right of sorts written in the U.S. constitution, gives the citizens the right to demonstrate, even under police protection. It’s no secret thousands of U.S. citizens protested the election of Donald Trump on 21 January 2017, only one day after he was sworn in as their 45th president. They did so in numbers so large, under police protection, that the debate about whether the protesters outnumbered the crowd at the swearing-in ceremony raged on for weeks.