Further deterioration of press freedom in Ghana

Expression

Media freedom watchdog: 31 violations involving 40 victims in 18 months

In a statement on 2nd July 2019, media freedom organisation Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) said that the press freedom violations in Ghana 'near alarming proportions'. MFWA documented 31 violations affecting 40 victims in the 18 months to July 2019. The majority of the violations have been physical attacks and severe threats, and one journalist was killed - investigative journalist Ahmed Hussein-Suale was shot and killed in January 2019, the first journalist to have been killed in the country in over a decade. The organisation further characterised the current situation for media freedom in Ghana:

"Attacks on journalists have been rampant and severe, there is a growing sense of intimidation of the media, and a growing culture of intolerance for dissenting views. There has been arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement of laws to shut down mainly pro-opposition media outlets. The independent broadcast media industry has been battling government over industry-crippling policy proposals."

Ghana dropped four places in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index of Reporters without Borders (RSF), thereby losing 'its status as Africa’s best-ranked country' in the index.

President of the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) Affail Monney said in an interview with the media in September 2019:

“…there’s been a decline in press freedom in Ghana and some hold contrary views but from where I sit and the position I occupy, all is not well with the media environment…we have press freedom but press freedom is on the decline’

Offices of online media outlet ModernGhana.com raided, two journalists detained and interrogated

On 27th June 2019, a group of people who identified themselves as agents of the Ministry of National Security raided the offices of online media outlet ModernGhana.com in Accra, without presenting a warrant, and arrested two journalists, editor Emmanuel Ajarfor Abugri and journalist Emmanuel Yeboah Britwum. According to Britwum, who spoke to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the two were interrogated at the Ministry of National Security in relation to a recent article on the Minister of National Security, Albert Kan Dapaah. The two were accused by the officers of having hacked an email account in order to obtain the information on the Minister. In addition, their laptops and cell phones were reportedly confiscated.

According to Aburgi, who spoke to the media, he was slapped during the interrogation and officers used a taser on several parts of his body, his arm and ears. The allegations of torture were denied in a statement by the National Security Council Secretariat on 1st July 2019, according to CPJ.

Britwum and Aburgi were released on 28th and 29th June respectively. On 5th July 2019, charges of stealing and unauthorised access to electronic files were filed against the two journalists as well as Yaw Obeng Manu, the editor of Peace FM, charges that were later that day dropped by a High Court in Accra following an application by a Senior State Attorney not to pursue the case.

Angela Quintal of CPJ said:

"The arrests of Emmanuel Abugri and Emmanuel Britwum, and Abugri's alleged torture at the hands of Ministry of National Security officers, is only the latest security service attack on journalists in Ghana. This dangerous pattern is made worse by the repeated failure to hold those responsible for attacks against the press to account."

Several journalists physically assaulted

On 11th September 2019, a group of people led by assemblyman for Jamestown in Accra, James Addo physically assaulted photojournalist David Andoh in Accra's suburb of Mantse Agbona. Andoh, who works for Joy News and was that day part of the media team of the campaign Clean Ghana, to raise awareness on public health and sanitation, was reportedly attacked when he took pictures of an altercation between an inspection team and a vendor selling fried plantains after the team ordered the vendor to remove the plantains as they were close to a toilet facility. According to the journalist, he was punched, kicked and shoved, and his camera was broken in the assault. According to news reports, James Addo was charged with assault a few days later on 16th September 2019.

Journalist for Adom TV Kwame Owusu Obrempongba was reportedly assaulted by a party official of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) during the opposition party’s parliamentary primaries on 24th August 2019, according to news reports. Prince Succeed Fiagadzi, NDC’s Secretary for Nkwanta South constituency, allegedly slapped the journalist and destroyed his camera when he noticed Obrempongba recording an altercation between two candidates. The Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) condemned the attack and urged media practitioners to boycott future NDC events. The NDC later apologized for the incident.

On 4th August 2019, journalist Della Russell Ocloo for the Graphic Communications Group Limited was assaulted by members of the Glorious Wave International Church in Accra while she was covering a protest at the church, according to MFWA. The protest, the '1000 Women’s March', was organised by women’s groups against comments made by the church's head pastor which the protesters said were denigrating to women of certain ethnic groups in Ghana. Members of the church approached the journalist in an aggressive way and hurled threats, including threats to beat her, if she did not stop recording the protest. Later, police officers took the journalist away after having been called by the church's leadership. According to Ocloo, the police acted aggressively towards her and attempted to take her phone and handbag.

According to news reports, Citi FM journalist Maxell Suuk reported being attacked by armed police officers on 6th August 2019 while covering a murder trial at the Tamale district court.Suuk said that he received permission from the Registrar to film the suspects coming out of the courtroom, but that police officers took his phone when they noticed that Suuk was filming, and deleted the footage. The Northern Region police command said in a statement it had directed the Regional Criminal Investigation Department to investigate the incident.

On 5th July 2019, journalist Elvis Washington and cameraman Edward Twum, both reporting for City TV, were reportedly attacked by four staff members of the National Identification Authority (NIA) at the Mataheko registration centre in Greater Accra Region. The two journalists were interviewing frustrated applicants who were waiting in a long queue for the national identification project. NIA staff reportedly assaulted Twum and attempted to seize his camera while a security officer prevented Washington from helping his colleague. According to news reports, some applicants have accused the NIA staff of asking for bribes to skip the queue in order to register for the national identification card.

On 23rd June 2019, military officers reportedly physically attacked David Ankomah, a cameraman for Joy News, while he was covering a protest at a church in East Legon, in Accra. According to the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), Ankomah was reporting on a protest by disgruntled customers of two investment companies - EL Real Estates and Tikowre Capital – owned by the head pastor of the Zoe Outreach Embassy Church, Kelvin Kossi Kobiri. The soldiers, who were invited by the church to keep the protesters at bay, reportedly physically assaulted the journalist and attempted to seize his camera. The protesters, who accuse the investment companies of mismanagement of their funds, came to the journalist’s rescue and retrieved his camera.

According to information received by CPJ, journalist Malik Sullemana for the state-owned newspaper Ghanaian Times was beaten by police officers and briefly detained on 14th March 2019. Sullemana, who is a court reporter, was reportedly beaten, searched and handcuffed after a confrontation with a police officer following a traffic incident in which the officer on a motorcycle collided with the Ghanaian Times branded vehicle that Sullemana was driving with two colleagues as passengers. Sullemana said to CPJ that he was further subjected to kicks, punches and insults at the police station, leading to bruises on one of his arms, a swelling of his leg and a blood clot in his eye. Three police officers were suspended two weeks later while an investigation into the incident was being conducted, while another investigation was opened into the allegations of the beatings at the police station.

Investigative journalist receives death threats

Investigative journalist Manasseh Azure Awuni of Joy News went into hiding in March and April 2019, and eventually left the country, after having received death threats. The threats followed the airing of a documentary, ‘Militia in the heart of the nation’, on 7th March alleging the existence of a vigilante group associated with the ruling party, the New Patriotic Party (NPP). In a petition to President Akufo-Addo, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and press freedom organisations from 14 West African countries asked the president to intervene to ensure the safety of Manasseh Azure Awuni:

“Our concern is born out of several factors including the recent murder of Ahmed Hussein-Suale, who was a team member of investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas. We are also aware of a number of incidents of press freedom violations both under your government and that of your predecessor in which perpetrators have not been punished, thus breeding a culture of impunity for crimes against journalists in Ghana.”

As reported previously on the Monitor, investigative journalist Ahmed Hussein-Suale was shot and killed on 16th January 2019. 

Right to Information Bill finally becomes law after two decades

On 26th March 2019, Ghana’s Parliament finally approved the Right to Information Bill, and it was signed into law by President Akufo-Addo on 21st May 2019. The RTI Act, which will grant citizens the right to seek and receive information from public institutions, was first drafted in 1999, reviewed in 2003, 2005 and 2007, and was only presented to Ghana's Parliament in 2010, during which the bill was discussed, referred, moved, but not passed. Freedom of information is guaranteed in Ghana’s 1992 Constitution.

The Coalition on the Right of Information, formed by several civil society and media groups in 2003, played an important role in advocating for the passage of the RTI Bill. In a statement on 27th August 2019, the RTI Coalition announced the establishment of the Civil Society RTI Implementation Committee, a technical committee that will work with stakeholders to ensure effective implementation of the RTI Law in Ghana:

“We recognise the roadmap set out by the Ministry of Information for a full rollout of the law next year. This committee will complement the efforts of the ministry and all other stakeholders to ensure that the measures planned for implementation are actually achieved.”

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Africa office, published the report ‘The Right to Information. Ghana’s Journey (1992-2019)’ in August 2019, documenting the long road, spanning two decades, to developing and advocating for the right to information law.