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How far would the Ghana State go to pin a criminal offence on Barker-Vormawor?

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Oliver Barker Vormawor

Ghana has been held as the standard for a stable democracy in Africa for decades. But Ghanaians are divided over whether the country is a true democracy or it is a façade?

In the last couple of weeks, some citizens including radio presenters, reporters and prominently, an activist have been arrested, detained and put before court over speech. There is a sense that speech has been criminalized as the police has been busy arresting, detaining and putting suspects before court.

The case of Oliver Barker-Vormawor, a Cambridge University, UK, doctoral student in International Law, who is an activist and Convenor of the #FixTheCountry movement stands out in many ways, because he has been charged with treason felony contrary to section 182 (b) of the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 Act 29.

Barker-Vormawor who was arrested at the Kotoka International Airport on his arrival from the UK on February 11, 2022 was arraigned before a District Court that has no jurisdiction over the case, after he was detained for more than 48 hours against the limits permitted by the Constitution. Supporters of the government however believe he deserves to be arrested and made to face the law for what they described as his ‘reckless posts.”

The District Court, presided over by Justice Eleanor Barnes-Botchway, a Circuit Court Judge, sitting as an additional Magistrate, said it had no jurisdiction to grant him bail. Barker-Vormawor will go back to court on February 28, 2022.

While his lawyers argued that his continuous detention was in flagrant violation of the constitution, stressing that the charge sheet was a “nullity requiring the discontinuance of his detention,” the prosecutor, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Sylvester Asare, said the Court had no jurisdiction over a first degree felony and could not grant Barker-Vormawor bail.

Curiously, it was the same Police Service that charged him before a court that it knew had no jurisdiction over the offence. Some commentators have therefore indicated that, Barker-Vormawor’s arrest and detention are meant to ‘show him where power lies’, and to ‘reduce him to size’, by teaching him a lesson. Some others believe, the act is meant to silence him. Indeed, Barker-Vormawor has been a thorn in the flesh of the government, mobilizing, protesting and demanding accountability.

For months, attempts by the #FixTheCountry Movement to get police permit to protest were denied more than once with the matter going in and out of court. The permits were eventually granted and the Movement has held a number of protests highlighting the failure of the government to cater for the citizens, key among them the protests about lack of housing. The Movement had led citizens without proper housing to occupy the Saglemi project, a government funded public housing scheme that is stuck in a legal process while it is deteriorating even as 40 per cent of Ghanaians live in slums and another 20 per cent live in kiosks, according to studies by the National Development Planning Commission and the Ghana Statistical Service Hosing and Population Census 2021 respctively.

From the onset of the case, it is obvious the State would have difficulties pinning the charge of treason felony on him, but would the State go to all lengths to pin some grave charges on him just to punish him? Barker-Vormawor’s arrest was triggered by a Facebook post in which he said if the e-Levy is passed, he would do a coup himself. That post has been interpreted differently.

For instance, would there be attempts to plant agents in his cells with recording gadgets to try and pick some intelligence? A desperate government with no intent to pursue democratic principles would use any form of underhand act to justify punishing its citizens.

For a government that has been cited to be acting with impunity from its first day in office, and now under pressure from rising public debt, inflation, depreciation of the national currency against the world’s major currencies, and a largely disappointed population because of the rising cost of living, what else could it possibly do to silence a loud critic or anyone it finds disagrreable?

And for a criminal justice system that has come under great criticism following the investigative expose known as ‘Ghana in the eyes of God’ in which judges and magistrates were caught on tape receiving bribes, it is instructive watching how the case would be handled.

While Ghana has indicated loudly to the rest of the world that it is practicing democracy with the rule of law, the application of the law sometimes appears like the law of the rulers.

In the coming days, Ghanaians and the rest of the world would be keenly watching how the Barker-Vormawor case would go.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

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