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TOGO: Torture and bullets used against government opponents - victims
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views
of the United Nations]
Sokode, 250 km north of the capital Lome, saw widespread violence following polls
SOKODE, 2 Jun 2005 (IRIN) - Five weeks on, Bangana's slight frame is still battered and bruised. He says he was tortured and beaten unconscious by paramilitary commandos, or "red berets", inside the Justice Minister's private residence when post-election violence hit this town in northern Togo.
Justice Minister Katari Foli-Bazi denied the allegations.
Bangana told IRIN that pro-government militia had come to his house in the dead of night and dragged him off to the minister's villa, beating him with a nail-studded club as they went.
The incident took place on the night of the 26 April, the same day protests erupted across Togo as furious opposition supporters took to the streets to denounce election fraud.
"When I got there, three red berets beat and tortured me while maybe 15 more soldiers watched," said the small toothless legal clerk who looks older than his 45 years.
"I was the first brought in. They smacked me on the legs with their truncheon, like this!" he said, demonstrating the sharp blow to his lower legs that knocked him to the floor.
Bangana said the soldiers then used their military-issue belts to tie his wrists to his ankles. They did the same to two other men that they brought in that night, beating them all unconscious with kicks, punches and truncheons. They was also whipped him with cords.
Bangana's boss, a law bailiff in the farming town on the main road north, thinks the beatings and torture were widespread. Most victims have long since left town, he said, but of the few left behind, four have visited his office asking for legal advice. He believes he can't help them however.
"I know there's no chance of proceedings getting anywhere. It's too political. The judges would reject their cases saying they're without foundation," he said.
But Justice Minister Foli-Bazi said in his office in Lome that Bangana was just telling lies.
"It's a story - that's the propaganda we hear all the time here in Togo. He's a bad person," said Foli-Bazi.
"They also said I bought machetes and gave them out to people - as if I'd do that! They talk just to dirty our reputation!" he bawled angrily.
Foli-Bazi conceded that there were security forces based at his Sokode house during the election period, but that they were there to protect it from attack and damage by opposition demonstrators - nothing more.
Protests broke out when Faure Gnassingbe, son of the country's ruler for 38 years, Gnassingbe Eyadema, was declared winner of a poll the opposition said had been rigged from the outset. The angry demonstrations quickly degenerated into street fighting.
Foli-Bazi said there was violence in the election period, and that according to his records, 69 people died nationally. However, Foli-Bazi denied that security forces killed anyone. Rather, it was the security forces that were fired on.
"I saw security forces killed by these [opposition] people.... I saw that myself. But a government go and kill people - we're not here for that!" he shouted.
The minister, sitting in front of a large portrait of the late Eyadema, spoke from behind his desk in the interior ministry, which he is also heading since his predecessor - Francois Boko - resigned in protest on the eve of the presidential election.
Foli-Bazi said Boko had resigned for personal reasons. But Boko said in a statement issued from exile in France this week that his surprise departure ahead of the 24 April poll was political.
He reiterated that he left because he wanted the poll delayed to avoid political violence in Togo.
Many witnesses to the violence told IRIN that government security forces had used live ammunition to put down the dissidents.
Thomas, who like others refused to give his real identity, said he was one of many shot by soldiers with Kalashnikovs when he took part in opposition demonstrations in Kpalime, close to the Ghanaian border, on election day.
The soldiers first hurled teargas and then fired on people - even as they were running away.
"I got a hit in the arm and in my leg as I was trying to hide under a bridge. They came after me but couldn't see me in the darkness," said Thomas, whose right thighbone has been totally shattered by one of the bullets.
When he was taken to the state-run hospital, the doctors there were either too scared or didn't want to treat him.
"My friends took me to the main hospital in Kpalime, but I was left unattended to in a corridor. I had no painkillers, nothing. There was a lot of blood and I kept losing consciousness," he explained, propped on his ward bed.
After talking later to the doctors, Thomas thinks he was saved thanks to a "religious man" who came and collected him and took him to one of the church-run hospitals that would treat him.
Thomas, a slightly built 26-year old who makes and sells traditional fabrics, went to the polling station to vote and then hung around with a 100 or so other opposition supporters to watch events.
"The RPT (ruling Rally for the Togolese People) came to collect the voting boxes to take them away to the local government office to count, but we refused to let them," Thomas explained.
Angered and scared by his ordeal, Thomas has decided to run for Ghana as soon as he can haul himself off his hospital bed in case the security forces are still after him. He feels guilty as it means he'll have to leave his aging grandmother to fend for herself.
Humanitarian workers in Kpalime confirmed that many of the injured were refused treatment or that bullets were not removed from some of the injured as doctors had been warned not to report any bullet wounds.
"It is hard work out what happened here in Kpalime. It is not clear how many were dead, or how many injured. The morgue and hospitals are not allowed to release the figures," said one aid worker, who refused to be named.
"People are still being sought by security forces and so they are too frightened to talk," he said.
Five weeks after voting day, opposition supporters, some of them with bullet wounds, were continuing to arrive at the offices of the Togolese League for Human Rights in Lome, also saying that they had been denied treatment.
Some had travelled the 250 km from Sokode, looking for a sympathetic doctor or for help to pay medical bills.