Violent clashes in northern Togo after imam arrested

Opposition supporters protest in the Be district of Lome on October 4, 2017. Thousands of people protested in Togo in the next phase of a campaign to force out President Faure Gnassingbe, whose dynasty has ruled the West African state for more than 50 years. (AFP)
Updated 17 October 2017
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Violent clashes in northern Togo after imam arrested

LOME, Togo: Violence broke out in Togo’s second city, Sokode, after the arrest of an imam close to the country’s main opposition, fueling tensions after weeks of anti-government protests.
“Electricity was cut off at about 7:00 p.m. (2100 GMT on Monday) after evening prayers,” said Ouro Akpo Tchagnaou, from the main opposition National Alliance for Change (ANC).
“Five police vehicles arrived to arrest Alpha Alassane, a very well-known imam in the city,” he added. “The population felt targeted and took to the streets.”
Clashes lasted throughout the night until calm was restored but the authorities have been warned of renewed protests if Alassane is not freed on Tuesday morning.
“The situation was hard to put up with last night. The security forces and youths clashed in several parts of the city, with teargas and stone-throwing,” one local told AFP.
“There were burning tires, barricades erected and buildings were looted,” added ANC spokesman Eric Dupuy.
“Homes were set on fire as well as a bank and premises belonging to (telephone company) TogoCell.”
“We know there were deaths and injuries but I can’t give you a toll at this time. We are still gathering details.”
Togo’s security minister, Col. Yark Damehame, told the local Radio Victoire that the arrest of Alassane, who is close to the Panafrican National Party (PNP), was justified.
“In his sermons he has been calling for violence and hatred... The last straw was last Friday when he called on his followers to kill soldiers,” he said.
Alassane has long been a dissenting voice in Togo but his arrest comes at a time of heightened political tension in Togo in recent months.
He has allied himself with the PNP of Tikpi Atchadam, who has spearheaded protests against President Faure Gnassingbe that have mobilized hundreds of thousands across the country.
The PNP and 13 other opposition parties are calling for political change in Togo to end the 50-year rule of the Gnassingbe family.
They want a limit on the number of presidential mandates to two — in line with practice elsewhere in west Africa — and the introduction of a two-round voting system.
The opposition parties have vowed to defy a government ban on midweek protests by marching in the capital Lome on Wednesday and Thursday.


Iranian TV anchor held as witness is released from US jail

Updated 4 min 30 sec ago
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Iranian TV anchor held as witness is released from US jail

  • Marzieh Hashemi was detained by federal agents last week in St. Louis and transported to Washington
  • Her detention comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the US after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from a nuclear deal

WASHINGTON: A prominent American-born anchorwoman on Iranian state television who was jailed in the US as a material witness has been released from jail, activists and a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Marzieh Hashemi, 59, was released from jail in Washington on Wednesday evening after being detained for more than 10 days, according to Abed Ayoub, an attorney with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
Hashemi, who works for the Press TV network’s English-language service, was detained by federal agents Jan. 13 in St. Louis, Missouri, where she had filmed a Black Lives Matter documentary after visiting relatives in the New Orleans area, her son said. She was then transported to Washington and had remained behind bars since then.
Hashemi appeared at least twice before a US District judge in Washington, and court papers said she would be released immediately after her testimony before a grand jury. Court documents did not include details on the criminal case in which she was named a witness.
Federal law allows judges to order witnesses to be detained if the government can prove that their testimony has extraordinary value for a criminal case and that they would be a flight risk and unlikely to respond to a subpoena. The statute generally requires those witnesses to be promptly released once they are deposed.
A person familiar with the matter said Hashemi had fulfilled her obligation as a material witness and was released. The person was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Hashemi is a US citizen and was born Melanie Franklin. She lives in Tehran and comes back to the United States about once a year to see her family, usually scheduling documentary work in the US, her son said.
Asked whether his mother had been involved in any criminal activity or knew anyone who might be implicated in a crime, Hossein Hashemi said, “We don’t have any information along those lines.”
He didn’t immediately respond to a call seeking comment on Wednesday.
Marzieh Hashemi’s detention comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the US after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from a nuclear deal. Iran also faces increasing criticism of its own arrests of dual citizens and other people with Western ties.
Earlier Wednesday, dozens of activists protested outside the federal courthouse in Washington, where Hashemi was scheduled to appear before the grand jury. They held signs and chanted, “Free, free, Marzieh!” and “Shame, shame, USA!“