The Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) has joined individuals and organisations opposing moves by the police to shutdown social media platforms on election day if it becomes necessary to maintain national stability.
The Inspector-General of Police (IGP) John Kudalor, has said the Police Administration was considering a shutdown of social media platforms in a bid to ensure peace during the election.
However, the suggestion had been condemned by individuals and organisations saying the move would weaken freedom of expression.
Dr Franklin Oduro, the Deputy Director at CDD, said in a statement copied to the Ghana News Agency that the decision was “undemocratic and retrogressive.”
“It is extremely worrying for a state institution charged with the core responsibility of ensuring the safety of citizens to be considering such an undemocratic move as shutting down of social media,” the statement said.
“Whatever the rationale, such a sweeping move would constitute an unprecedented violation of provisions of the 1992 Constitution guaranteeing free expression.
“It would be a retrogressive step in a democracy on any day – and especially on the day citizens are choosing their government,” it said.
“This disclosure by the police, barely five months from the general election, represents an extremely worrying trend coming on the back of the recent attempts by the state to force through the passage of the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunication Bill, 2016,” the statement said.
It expressed dissatisfaction at the bill which sought to grant the security agencies unfettered powers to interfere with the personal communication of Ghanaians.
It was also unhappy with attempts by the National Media Commission to introduce a new law requiring media owners to seek content approval from the Commission before publication.
The statement said it found it alarming that a senior government official was proposing to emulate the example of Uganda, where a distinctly autocratic regime had recently used media repression to secure election victory.
It said CDD-Ghana viewed the environment ahead of the 2016 polls as tensed, however, “the IGP’s remarks lead the Centre to wonder if the IGP and the Police know something more than the public knows about the state of national security.”
“That is to say we have to wonder if Ghana is faced with such dire national security threat for the IGP to be contemplating such a radical and anti-democratic move,” the statement said.
It said the Centre would implore the Global Positioning System (GPS) and the IGP to consider more democratic and progressive ways of achieving election security.
It said CDD also accepted that the IGP may have legitimate concerns about national security in the context of the impending 2016 polls.
The statement said: “We further concede that like any other technological tool, the social media can be used in an abusive manner – a challenge faced by many modern societies.
“However, we are also convinced that handled in the right way, the social media can be extremely beneficial to election security.”
It said the Ghana Police Service had used Facebook and Whatsapp to educate citizens and to receive reports on election incidents in the past while the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers and other election watchdog groups had used the same tools to disseminate information from the police to the public.
“The thought of blocking them out would not only amount to the suppression of the fundamental right to freedom of expression and speech, but it would also undermine the country’s democracy in general and the credibility of the 2016 polls in particular,” it said.
The CDD-Ghana advised the Police Service and other security agencies to eschew any thought of clamping down on media freedoms and free speech and search credible and democratically acceptable means of strengthening national security.
“We recommend that the IGP and GPS elicit the help of experts to deal with abuses, intensify public education on security issues related to elections and work with relevant stakeholders to ensure that it is free of violence,” the statement said.