Covering COVID-19, December 2020 elections: journalists assaulted, intimidated and harassed

Women wearing face masks chat at the Nima market as Ghana lifts partial lockdown amid the spread of COVID-19, in Accra, Ghana April 20, 2020. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko via Gallo Images

Expression

Journalists physically attacked

Journalist and cameraman for the broadcaster TV3, Stanley Nii Blewu, was kicked and beaten by a soldier while he was covering a sanitation project in Accra on 12th August 2020, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) who spoke with both Blewu and his colleague Joseph Armstrong Gold-Alorgbey who were interviewing people at the clean-up site at the Tema police station. They were stopped and surrounded by a group of police and military officers when they approached the station. After the journalists refused to delete footage as demanded by the security officers, a soldier started assaulting Blewu and confiscated the journalists’ phones and the camera. The same soldier later kicked Blewu in his abdomen at the Accra Metro Metropolitan Assembly, as the journalists followed him in an attempt to retrieve their equipment. The TV3 management managed to retrieve the phones and camera but said that footage from the camera was deleted and they were unsure if the phones had been compromised. The incident was reportedly amicably settled between TV3 management and the military authorities. The Ghana Journalists’ Association (GJA) said in a statement that the assault was

“…a barbaric infringement on press freedom guaranteed under the 1992 Constitution. The display of naked impunity and unwarranted attacks on journalists, especially in their line of duty, are also a dent on Ghana’s image as a flourishing democracy that highly respects media freedom. The same factors account for the country’s slide down on the World Press Freedom Index.”

The journalists were covering the story after Minister of Sanitation and Water Resources Cecilia Dapaah said that they had achieved 85 percent of their target of making Accra the cleanest city in Africa.

On 6th August 2020, students of the Bright Senior High School in Akyem Kukurantumi, Eastern Region, chased and physically attacked journalist Emmanuel Pacome of the media outlet Graphic Daily when he was reporting on the students’ assault on exam supervisors of theWest African Examination Council (WAEC), who they say have been too strict, affecting their ability to write the West Africa Senior School Certificate Examination. The students redirected their anger towards the journalist when they noticed he was filming the incident and chased him when he tried to flee the scene. He was caught and attacked, resulting in cuts on his head, arms and fingers. Some of his belongings, including his phone, were taken. Pacome has lodged a complaint on the attack. 

December 2020 general elections: attacks on journalists

Ahead of Ghana’s general elections on 7th December 2020, in which voters will elect the president and members of parliament, there have been attacks against journalists who were reporting on the elections, in particular the primaries and the registration of voters.

Journalist Abraham Ananpansah of radio station PAD FM said that he was subjected to threatening calls and later physically attacked by a group of individuals led by Rahim Anoma Atabia, the Deputy Organiser for the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) in Damongo, Savannah Region. The incident is reportedly related to Ananpansah’s report on 2nd July 2020 claiming that Rahim Anoma Atabia attacked an observer of the opposition National Democratic Congress party with a chair at a registration centre. He reportedly received threatening phone calls, which he reported to the police, and was physically assaulted four days later by a group of eight individuals. The journalist told the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) that Atabia hit him on the head with a stone, while the others surrounded him and beat him with sticks and other objects until passers-by intervened. Rahim Anoma Atabia was charged, according to MFWA, while the police command tried to mediate.

Journalist for Kingdom FM Rebecca Asheley Armarh told the Ghana News Agency that police officers stopped her and ordered her to stop taking pictures when she and other journalists were covering the NPP primaries for the Tema East constituency on 20th June 2020. Police officers, who were claiming that journalists need permission to take pictures, took Armarh’s phone and briefly handcuffed her, threatening to take her to the police station. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the incident happened after the journalists were documenting the police officers slapping an NPP delegate. Another journalist, regional correspondent for Atinka TV, Philip AkuteyAzu, said that a police officer demanded his phone while taking his gun out of its holster. They were both reportedly questioned and forced to delete the pictures and footage of the incident with the NPP delegate. Angela Quintal of CPJ commented:

“ the fact that officers harassed journalists Rebecca Asheley Armarh and Philip Akutey Azu for recording instances of alleged police brutality reflects the contempt for accountability in crimes against journalists that has plagued Ghana’s law enforcement. It’s a pattern that must end.”

Journalist Macbadara Romanus of radio station Tizaa FM was covering the parliamentary primaries of the NPP in Nalerigu, North East Region, on 20th June 2020 when NPP supporters allegedly shoved him to the ground, kicked and punched him while his phone was taken by the attackers. Romanus told MFWA that Mariam Iddrisu, the municipal chief executive of Sagnarigu, accused the journalist of filming an altercation between the NPP Regional Chairman and a person working for Mohamed Sampah who is contesting the incumbent member of Parliament for Nalergiu, and ordered a group of supporters to take Romanus’ phone. The journalist later received his phone back, but with recordings having been deleted. The incident was reported to the police, who said they were investigating.

The MFWA commented on these incidents ahead of Ghana’s general elections:

“The violent scenes that were recorded at various polling centres during the NPP parliamentary primaries and similar incidents being enacted at various places during the ongoing voter registration exercise have created an atmosphere of insecurity that could prove hostile to the media if carried into the December 2020 elections.”

COVID-19: journalists assaulted, detained, interrogated

Following his reporting on the death of the mayor of the city of Sekondi-Takoradi, Western Region, as a result of COVID-19 on 12th June 2020, journalist Ohene-Gyan of Empire FM said he received multiple threats over two days from the mayor’s family members. Ohene-Gyan said to CPJ that the threats started once the report was widely shared on media platforms and that the threats only stopped once President Akufo-Addo confirmed the mayor’s death in a public address on 14th June 2020.

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the police reportedly summoned and interrogated journalist Angel 102.9 FM Kofi Adomah on 3rd June 2020, according to news reports. The journalist had predicted, in a YouTube video, that COVID-19 restrictions would be eased, hours before a state of the nation address by President Akufo-Addo. CID officers questioned the journalist on his sources of information and later he was allowed to go. Press freedom organisation MFWA said that the interrogation amounted to an ‘unconstitutional act of intimidating the journalist’.

On 5th April 2020, a soldier assaulted the manager of radio station Zuria FM and local correspondent of German public international broadcaster Deutsche Welle’s (DW) Hausa programme, Yussif Abdul Ganiyu, in Kumasi, who was later detained at a police station on accusations of broadcasting false information.

According to the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), Abdul Ganiyu was conducting an interview as part of a report on a clean-up exercise in the Kumasi suburb of Aboabo-Akorem when a female military officer, who was part of a patrol to enforce the COVID-19 lockdown, confronted the journalist over a report published on the Facebook page of the radio station alleging that a 71-year old individual was brutalised for breaking the lockdown regulations, and reportedly slapped the journalist several times. Abdul Ganiyu said that he was taken to a patrol vehicle and was only released after the intervention of a municipal official. The assaulting soldier allegedly also told the journalist that she was the one who called him a few days earlier with threats if he did not desist from criticising the military. The journalist reported the incident at a police station. A group of soldiers reportedly visited the offices of Zuria FM later and took Abdul Ganiyu to police headquarters to lodge a complaint against the journalist for broadcasting false information. According to CPJ, who spoke with the journalist, the soldiers interrogated him for three hours, forced him to delete recordings of the threatening call by the military officer, and further threatened the journalist with violence. Following the incident, DW sent a letter to the Minister of Information requesting an investigation and bring those responsible to justice.

A few days later, on 10th April 2020, military officers, who were enforcing COVID-19 restrictions, reportedly assaulted journalist for the broadcaster TV Africa Samuel Adobah while he was reporting on a fire in the Greater Accra Region, district of Ablekuma. The journalist told CPJ that one soldier hit him while another smashed his phone, and the assault stopped when passers-by intervened. The journalist reported the assault to the police. Angela Quintal of CPJ commented:

“The attacks on Samuel Adobah and Yussif Ganiyu are unfortunately just the most recent examples of security officials in Ghana attacking journalists for their work. It’s a pattern that must be reversed. It is outrageous that soldiers from Ghana’s military are spending time and energy attacking the journalists working to keep the public informed about the COVID-19 pandemic instead of focusing on keeping the public safe and supporting the response to the public health crisis.”

Peaceful Assembly

Black Lives Matter protest in Accra dispersed, organiser arrested and charged

On 6th June 2020, a Black Lives Matter vigil organised by the group Economic Fighters League (EFL) at the Black Star Square in Accra, was dispersed and stopped by security officers claiming the gathering was not authorised. The officers arrested Ernesto Yeboah of the EFL, who was addressing the crowd. Yeboah was later charged with failure to notify the police of the gathering and breaching the Imposition of Restriction Act and was later released on bail. The EFL claimed later in an interview that they did notify the police in advance and that gatherers were given hand sanitiser and masks. The vigil gathered over 60 people who were carrying placards such as ‘Police brutality = Colonial Violence’, ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Africa Must Unite’.