The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has found the Government of Togo violated international human rights law by imprisoning Irish national and businessman Abdoul Aziz Goma. Responding to a legal petition filed by Freedom Now and the law firm McKool Smith, the UN concluded that there was no legal basis for Goma’s arrest and that his rights to assembly, association, and a fair trial were infringed.
“We welcome the Working Group’s decision,” Freedom Now Legal Officer Adam Lhedmat said. “Abdoul Aziz Goma has spent nearly five years in prison without a trial, while repeatedly being subjected to reprehensible acts of torture and mistreatment. We call on the government to abide by the Working Group’s decision and release him immediately.”
Prior to his arrest, Goma made regular business visits to Togo. His most recent trip was in November 2018. On December 19, 2018, Goma received an unexpected call from a friend residing in Accra, Ghana requesting help for eight young people who had traveled from Accra to Lomé, Togo and were stranded as they were unable to reach their local contact. Although Goma did not know these individuals, he decided to help them and contacted a friend who agreed to take them in. He also provided them with money to assist in their return to Ghana. Goma later learned that the individuals were originally from Togo and were in Lomé to participate in a peaceful protest march surrounding the then-upcoming elections. However, the protest never occurred due to a government crackdown. The eight individuals finally reached their local contact the following evening and moved to a hotel. Goma never saw them again.
On the evening of December 21, 2018 Goma was arrested on the streets of Lomé by a group of armed men in plain clothes, later revealed to be members of the Special Intervention Unit of the Gendarmerie (U.S.I.G). The armed men assaulted and then handcuffed Goma and his companions. They were taken to the headquarters of the special police where they were again physically assaulted and continued to be mistreated into the next day. Goma was handcuffed to a car and then a tree and beaten until he vomited blood and passed out. He ensured repeated beatings and torture for two weeks.
Goma appeared before the public prosecutor 10 days after his arrest and informed of the charges against him, which included aggravated disturbance of public order, willful destruction of public property, criminal conspiracy, and undermining the internal security of the State, but was not presented to a judge for another two weeks. The charges of destruction of public property and undermining state security were later dropped. At no time during these events did Goma have access to an attorney or contact with his relatives.
In October 2020, nearly two years after his arrest, Goma was granted his first access to lawyers, who requested provisional release. This request was denied by the court without any justification. The court subsequently ordered an official inquiry into Goma’s allegations of torture, which nearly two and a half years later has still not taken place.
On January 20, 2022, Goma was transferred from a secret prison at the National Gendarmerie of Lomé, where he was held since June 2020, back to the Civil Prison of Lomé, where he remains incarcerated. The Civil Prison of Lomé is meant to house 600 prisoners, but is currently home to more than 2,000. During his detention, Goma was typically only fed once per day and often not at all.
Due to the torture he suffered, Goma’s health has been rapidly deteriorating. Despite his medical condition, his requests to be released on humanitarian grounds have been denied.