Press freedom violations surge: journalists assaulted, detained, prosecuted

Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo delivers his annual state of the nation address to the parliament in Accra, Ghana, March 30, 2022. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko


Journalists arrested, prosecuted

On 8th February 2022, a High Court in Accra sentenced radio journalist Oheneba Boamah Bennie to a prison sentence of 14 days and a fine of 3,000 Ghanian cedi (approximately 395 USD) for contempt of court. The charge relates to a video posted on Facebook in which the Power FM host and commentator claims that President Nana Akufo-Addo had met with Supreme Court judges preceding their decision on an election petition by opposition party National Democratic Congress (NDC), who were challenging the December 2020 electoral results. He was arrested on 14th December 2020 by officers of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) and held for two days in relation to the Facebook post and accused of insulting and issuing threats to President Nana Akufo-Addo. The judge reportedly declined a request from Bennie to substitute the prison sentence for an additional fine due to his poor health. 

On 10th February 2022, Kwabena Bobbie Ansah, a radio host for Accra FM, was arrested on charges of publishing false news and of offensive conduct in relation to a video he allegedly posted on social media where he claimed that the First and Second Ladies of Ghana, Mrs Rebecca Akufo-Addo and Mrs Samira Bawumia, fraudulently appropriated state land for the Rebecca Foundation, a non-profit organisation. The police further accuse the radio host of failing to honour several invitations to assist the police with the investigation, which the radio presenter denies. Ansah was later released on bail of 50,000 cedis (approximately 5,600 USD). 

On 25th February 2022, national security operatives arrested freelance journalist Sacut Amenga-Etego on accusations of 'illegally' filming them and arrested suspects on the premises of the High Court. The court ordered the detention of the journalist for a period of two weeks as the judge deemed the journalist a security threat to “the court complex or the whole nation". On 1st March 2022, the journalist was discharged but he was immediately re-arrested on bribery allegations. 

Radio station attacked, vandalised, journalists assaulted

On 13th January 2022, ten unidentified, masked armed individuals broke into and vandalised the offices of Radio Ada FM, a privately-owned radio station in Ada district in the Greater Accra Region. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the assailants threatened and attacked the radio's staff members: radio host Korle Adjaotor Sorngortse was hit and kicked all over his body for 10 minutes, the receptionist was shoved and Gideon Amanor Dzeagu, the producer, was forced to kneel. Journalist for Radio Ada FM, Julius Odoi told the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) that the men ordered Gabriel Korley Adjaotor, who was presenting a music programme at the time, to stop broadcasting. The men further threatened to return if Radio Ada FM did not cease reporting on a recently granted salt mining contract. The radio station had reportedly said that the mining contract, granted to Electrochem, would require the relocation of people. Two organisers of a protest against the mining contract, planned for that day, were present at the station during the attack. One of them was assaulted by the perpetrators. Two computers for recording, a soundmixer and headphones were destroyed in the attack. As a result of the attack, the radio station was shut down for a few days. 

Journalists assaulted

On 11th March 2022, two soldiers repeatedly beat investigative journalist Michael Aidoo, a fellow with MFWA's Next Generation Investigative Journalism Fellowship, at the Afari Military Hospital project site in Ashanti Region. After noticing that Aidoo was taking pictures of the local offices of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), the ruling political party of President Nana Akufo-Addo, a soldier identified as Opoku demanded the journalist's phone and password and started beating Aidoo when he initially refused. After yielding to the soldier, the latter deleted videos and pictures the journalist had taken of the site. He was further beaten by Opoku and another soldier after he identified himself as an investigative journalist, and was forced to do push-ups with a cement block on his waist. MFWA petitioned the Minister of Defence to demand an investigation into the assault.

A month prior to Aidoo's assault, on 3rd February 2022, Connect FM radio broadcaster Eric Nana Gyetuah was assaulted by police officers in Takoradi, Western Region. According to reports, a group of at least five police officers in plain clothes reportedly attacked Gyetuah after they noticed him filming the police officers in a restaurant, who had brought arrested individuals to the eatery in handcuffs. The beating started when the journalist refused to hand over his phone. Gyetuah was further handcuffed and taken to a police station where he was detained for several hours on accusations of unlawfully taking pictures and public order charges before being released on bail. According to news reports, the journalist's ear drum was perforated during the attack. In a statement, the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) commented

“The GJA is struggling to come to terms with reports of policemen who renounced the use of reason and abandoned their code of conduct to brutally assault Eric Nana Gyetuah, Producer at an FM in Takoradi for filming them in a public place."

Charges against the journalist were later reportedly dropped while Inspector-General of Police George Akuffo Dampare promised that an investigation into the incident would be opened. 


#FixTheCountry convener detained, prosecuted

On 11th February 2022, security officers detained Oliver Barker-Vormawor, an activist and convener of the #FixTheCountry protests, at Kotoka International Airport on his return to Ghana from the UK. He was later charged with treason for comments he made on social media, saying that he would stage a coup if the National Assembly passes the controversial e-levy tax law. The Electronic Transfer Levy law or e-levy tax introduces a 1.5 percent tax on electronic transfers over 100 cedis (approximately 13 USD), which includes mobile money transfers, and was passed by the National Assembly on 29th March 2022. 

After spending 33 days in custody, the Tema High Court granted Barker-Vormawor a 2 million cedis bail (approximately 262 600 USD). Bail conditions include the handover of his passport and presenting himself to the police weekly. 

Anti-corruption civil society activist detained 

The Executive Director of anti-corruption CSO Alliance of Social Equity and Public Accountability (ASEPA), Mensah Thompson, was detained on 9th February 2022 and charged with publication of false news. The detention follows a complaint by the Armed Forces over a Facebook post in which Thompson claimed that the President and his family had used the presidential jet for a shopping trip to the UK. Thompson had reportedly retracted his statements and issued a public apology. He was arraigned the following day, on 10th February 2022, and was granted a 50,000 cedis bail (approximately 6,500 USD).