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9 “Western Togoland” secessionist leaders freed in Ghana

The nine members of the Homeland Study Group Foundation (HGSF) were arrested in a police crackdown in May

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Nine "Western Togoland" secessionist leaders freed in Ghana
Photo: Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa

Ghana on Monday dropped treason charges against nine alleged separatist leaders accused of seeking an independent state for the people of the eastern Volta region.

The nine members of the Homeland Study Group Foundation (HGSF) were arrested in a police crackdown in May and charged with plotting to create a new nation to be named “Western Togoland”.

Multiple ethnicities live in the region, a place with a history of rule by three colonial European powers.

READ: 20 arrested in separatist crackdown in Ghana

“The state is no longer interested in the case,” government prosecutor Winifred Sarpong told a trial hearing in Accra, prompting the court to drop the charges. 

Among those released was the group’s 85-year-old leader Charles Kormi Kudzordzi, who was airlifted to the capital for the trial.  

The HGSF group, which says it works to advance the rights of the people in eastern Ghana, welcomed the ruling. 

“This is victory for democracy,” HSGF secretary George Nyakpo, who went into hiding from the authorities, told reporters.

“We won’t relent but we’ll get to know the next line of action when we congregate again.” 

Some 80 other alleged separatists were detained in May in a police operation focused on the town of Ho, some 150 kilometres (95 miles) northeast of the capital Accra.

They have since all been released on bail or let off with a caution. 

In 2017, the group’s leaders were arrested and warned not to engage in activities against the state.

READ: Ghana moves to end dreams of ‘Western Togoland’

Britain seized much of what is now Ghana, and Germany grabbed neighbouring Togo.

After Germany’s defeat in World War I, the land was split between British Togoland and French Togoland.

When Britain left its empire in Africa, British Togoland became part of eastern Ghana in 1956.

But separatists say the area has its own unique history and culture, and want a country of their own. 

The separatists began campaigning in 1972 as the “National Liberation Movement of Togoland”, dominated by the Ewe tribal group. 

Their calls to renegotiate borders sparked tensions between Ghana and Togo, and in 1976, Accra banned the group. 

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East Africa Politics News

Malawi police probes officers over rape allegations

Rights group, NGO-GCN said that some police officers took advantage of the chaos to sexually assault women

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Malawi police probes officers over rape allegations

Malawi police on Thursday announced the launch of an inquiry into allegations by rights groups that its officers raped and tortured women during demonstrations over presidential election results.   

The usually peaceful southern African country has been gripped by a wave of protests since President Peter Mutharika secured a second term in May.

Riots broke out last week in Msundwe — a trading outpost west of the capital Lilongwe — when opposition supporters blocked a pro-government group from attending a public meeting.

One policeman was stoned to death during the unrest.

Rights group Gender Coordination Network (NGO-GCN) said Thursday that some police officers took advantage of the chaos to sexually assault women in and around Msundwe on the following day.

They urged authorities to “ensure thorough investigation into the following alleged rape, defilement and torture of innocent women and girls”.

Malawi police have since set up a commission of inquiry to investigate the allegations.

“Different professionals…will investigate the matter in a transparent and independent manner,” said police spokesman James Kadadzera in a statement.

“All suspects identified will be treated according to the laws of the land without favour.”

The assaults allegedly took place on October 9 by police officers dispatched to quell the unrest, according to the NGO-GCN.

“Police went to these places on duty because they were in uniform and they used a police car,” said NGO-GCN head Barbara Banda, adding that the officers “threw teargas in every direction”.

“In one instance, the parents of one of the victims was asked to go into another room and the girl was raped.”

Banda told reporters that while three cases of sexual assault had been recorded so far, more could be “unveiled” by the investigation.

Protest organisers Malawi’s Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), also called for the allegations to be investigated.

“It is shocking that we have the police, who are supposed to protect people, abusing and victimizing women,” said HRDC official Gift Trapence.

Protests have flared in Malawi since Mutharika narrowly won May’s presidential election amid widespread allegations of fraud.

Opposition supporters are demanding the resignation of the electoral commission chairwoman, who they accuse of rigging the vote.

Most demonstrations have turned into violent clashes between groups, with security forces firing tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowds.

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East Africa News

International election observers flag concerns over Mozambique’s polls

The country voted in general polls on Tuesday after a campaign marked by violence and claims of electoral fraud

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International election observers flag concerns over Mozambique polls

International observers on Thursday said Mozambique’s election was conducted in an “orderly manner”, but expressed concerns about voter registration irregularities and “an unlevel playing field”.

The country voted in presidential, parliamentary and provincial polls on Tuesday after a campaign marked by violence and claims of electoral fraud.

President Filipe Nyusi’s Frelimo party — which has ruled Mozambique since independence in 1975 — is widely expected to again beat its civil war foe, Renamo, a former rebel group turned main opposition party.

Election day was seen as largely peaceful, but tensions have risen with uncertainty over when the results will be released.

The final results must be published within 15 days of the vote, but the electoral commission has indicated a provisional tally — which had been expected on Thursday — would not be issued.

Ignacio Sanchez Amor, leader of the European Union’s OSCE observer mission, said “voting procedures were well-implemented” on election day.

However, he said the fact that there were no observers in almost half of the country’s polling stations “did not contribute to the transparency of the process”.

Amor added that “an unlevel playing field was evident throughout the campaign”.

READ: Mozambique votes in tense election after violent campaign

“The ruling party dominated the campaign in all provinces and benefited from the advantages of incumbency, including use of state resources.”

The Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) said it was regrettable that irregularities in voter registration had not been addressed before the vote.

Local non-profit observer groups had reported the presence of 300,000 “ghost voters” — names not aligned with real voters — on the electoral roll in the southern Gaza province.

“Key aspects of the process such as the security challenges, voter registration, the campaign and selective accreditation of citizen observers posed challenges to the integrity of the elections,” said EISA Mozambique head and former Ghana President John Dramani Mahama. 

Former Kenyan Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka said the Commonwealth’s observer mission “remained concerned about the impact” of the suspected ghost voters on the election.

However, observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) had no such concerns.

READ: Mozambique’s Renamo party says members attacked after peace deal

“The pre-election and the voting phases of the 2019 electoral processes were generally peaceful and conducted in an orderly manner,” said Zimbabwean Defence Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, the SADC observer head.

The election has been seen as a key test of the peace deal sealed in August between Frelimo and Renamo, which fought a brutal 1975-1992 civil war.

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North Africa

Morocco frees journalist jailed for abortion after royal pardon

Hajar Raissouni was sentenced on September 30, along with her Sudanese fiancé for having sexual relations out of wedlock

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Morocco frees journalist jailed for abortion after royal pardon
Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni (R) flashes the victory sign upon leaving a prison in Sale near the capital Rabat on October 16, 2019. - Raissouni who was sentenced to one year in jail for an "illegal abortion" and sexual relations outside marriage walked free on today, hours after being granted a royal pardon. She was sentenced on September 30, along with her Sudanese fiance, a gynaecologist, anaesthetist and a medical assistant, whose convictions were also overturned, an official told AFP. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni who was sentenced to one year in jail for an “illegal abortion” and sexual relations outside marriage walked free on Wednesday, shortly after being granted a royal pardon.

In a case that had provoked a storm of protests from rights groups, the justice ministry said the 28-year-old woman was released on a pardon issued by King Mohammed VI.

Rassiouni was sentenced on September 30, along with her Sudanese fiancé, a gynaecologist, anaesthetist and a medical assistant, whose convictions were also overturned, an official told reporters.

The journalist made a victory sign to the waiting media as they emerged from El-Arjat prison near Rabat, but she made no statement before joining her family and friends.

The ministry said the monarch wanted to help “preserve the future of the couple, who wanted to establish a family in line with our religious and legal precepts, despite the error they made”.

The amnesty was decided on the grounds of “compassion”, it said.

A government source told reporters the ruling was made “without entering into the debate that is sovereign to Moroccan citizens on the evolution of their society and in which, regrettably, certain foreigners, intellectuals, media and NGOs invited themselves to take part”.

The journalist at the Akhbar Al-Yaoum newspaper, which has a history of run-ins with the authorities, denounced the affair as a “political trial”, saying she had been questioned by police about her family and her writing.

Youne Maskine, a director of Akhbar Al-Yaoum, took to Twitter to hail “finally a wise decision”. 

READ: Moroccan journalist says police forced her to take medical test

Morocco frees journalist jailed for abortion after royal pardon
Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni (L) is greeted by her boyfriend Rifaat Al Amine upon leaving a prison in Sale, near the capital Rabat, on October 16, 2019. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Raissouni was arrested on August 31 as she left a clinic in Rabat. In court, she denied having had an abortion, saying she had been treated for internal bleeding — testimony backed up by her gynaecologist.

She was sentenced under Article 490 of the Muslim-majority kingdom’s legal code.

That article punishes sexual relations out of wedlock, while the law also forbids all abortions unless the mother’s life is in danger.

‘Obsolete’ ban –

In a case that sparked widespread debate on personal and media freedoms in Morocco, her gynaecologist, who spoke up in her defence, was given two years and her fiancé one year in prison.

The anaesthetist was handed a one-year suspended sentence and the medical assistant eight months, also suspended.

Morocco frees journalist jailed for abortion after royal pardon
Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni (L) is greeted by her mother upon leaving a prison in Sale near the capital Rabat on October 16, 2019. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Rights groups were quick to condemn the verdicts, which Amnesty International described as a “devastating blow for women’s rights” in the country. 

Ahmed Benchemsi, the regional director for Human Rights Watch, described the sentencing of Raissouni and her fiancé as a “black day for freedom in Morocco”.

The verdicts were “a blatant injustice, a flagrant violation of human rights, and a frontal attack on individual freedoms,” he wrote on Twitter.

The prosecution insisted she had been seen by a medic and showed signs of pregnancy and of having undergone a “late voluntary abortion”.

It had said her detention had “nothing to do with her profession as a journalist”.

READ: Moroccan journalist arrested over “Illegal abortion”

Between 600 and 800 back-shop abortions occur each day in Morocco, according to estimates by campaign groups.

In a manifesto published on September 23 by Moroccan media outlets, hundreds of women declared themselves “outlaws” by claiming to have already violated the “obsolete” laws of their country on abortion and other social norms.

In the early 1970s, in a similar text, French women calling themselves the “343 sluts” famously declared they had had an abortion when it was still illegal.

Last year, Morocco tried thousands of people for sex out of wedlock, 170 people for being gay and 73 for pregnancy terminations.

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