Free speech under siege in Ghana

The arrest and formal charge of Mr Ato Kwamena Dadzie, Acting News Editor of JOY FM, should be a matter of concern to every Ghanaian.  Mr Dadzie was arrested for refusing to disclose the source of a story aired by the radio station on the STX housing deal.  A government statement said this was over allegations of death threats.   The statement said a caution statement was taken from Mr Dadzie.  This must have been a real ordeal for Mr Dadzie.  Was he asked to report at a police station or was he picked up out of the blue?  How many hours did he spend at the police station?  Was he accompanied by a lawyer or given that opportunity?

When Mr Dadzie’s matter arose, I would have expected the police to have sought the assistance of the Ghana Journalists Association or even the National Media Commission in conducting investigation.  The fact that the two bodies, among others, have expressed concern about the arbitrary arrest is an indication that no such effort was made.  And the fact that concern has been expressed by the National Media Commission of all bodies is particularly damning.

With the huge arsenal of resources at the disposal of the state, the police of course has many avenues of gathering intelligence information if it genuinely means to protect people rather than intimidating and putting fear in journalists and opponents of the NDC government.  For the police to physically seize a person in order to extract information from him or her in such circumstances shows inefficiency and is crude and brutal.  It is barbaric and shameful.  As things stand, the life of the person against whom the threat was made is in even greater danger, not to mention the journalist himself.

Mr Dadzie’s arrest comes after a long string of similar cases where individuals have lost their liberty as the NDC government rolls back the frontiers of free speech.  It is sad that, after an NPP government has abolished the Criminal Libel Law, the NDC government has found obnoxious laws to harass journalists and opponents.  This is part of NDC strategy towards 2012, i.e. testing the waters and trying to weaken NPP’s resolve.

It was only about a month ago that the Black Stars’ performance in South Africa wrapped up Ghanaians in the national colours burning out a sense of nationalism, patriotism and pride.  But, under this government, Ghanaians cannot get away from the feeling that there is an NDC Ghana and an NPP Ghana.  For NDC, life is sure.  For NPP, life is war.   NPP must be constantly aware that NDC is an extension of PNDC.  If NPP members and sympathizers do not stand up to be counted, next time there will not be taking of a caution statement – there will be abduction under cover of darkness.   I would suggest that the NPP finds a way of setting up a special fund to protect journalists in a bipartisan way.

The Attorney-General is the custodian of the human rights and civil liberty of every individual inside the country and to a large extent every Ghanaian outside.  What does she have to say about the arbitrary arrests?  If she cannot discharge that duty, she must go.

I also wonder about what Parliament says about these matters.  Each person who has been the victim of arbitrary arrest is a constituent of one Member of Parliament or the other.  The “Honourable” Members of Parliament concerned must do everything they can to satisfy themselves that the civil liberty of their constituent is not unduly taken away from that individual.  It is equally important that we hear from the committee of Parliament that is charged with protecting our human rights.

By: J. Asante-Yeboah

Email: [email protected]

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