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The police commander under whose watch a journalist was beaten in the street by policemen last Friday in the Upper East region, and who later boastfully claimed responsibility in public for the assault, has apologised to the broadcaster, saying a bad mood pushed him into the mess.
The remorse comes after an angered press in the region declared an ‘on-air war’ against the police the following Monday.
Whilst representatives of the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) were in a crunch meeting with police chiefs at the Regional Police Headquarters in the early hours of Monday, radio stations in the region were also launching heavy ‘airstrikes’ on the law enforcement agency from their respective ‘studio arsenals’. A radio audience of about one million listeners backed the media with ‘oral missiles’ through live telephone calls. Those in the crucial meeting room could feel the anticipated bang and tremor from the 'war explosives' outside.
A remorseful ASP Eric Van Koffie, Commander of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Unit, who led the vicious attack on Christopher Kevin Asima, former host of Daybreak Upper East, a morning show programme on A1 Radio, described the battering as an “unfortunate error”.
The SWAT boss claimed an issue between Christopher and his men, which led to the assault, caught him in a bad mood he had developed from an open altercation with a driver. The driver, he said, had tried to disobey a traffic diversion order being enforced as firefighters were battling fire on the Commercial Street Friday.
“This is unfortunate. This is very unfortunate. It’s unfortunate that this incident happened. Before the incident happened, you know we blocked the road from the other side, the SSNIT joint. This man was coming [towards the spot where the Fire Service tender was parked and would not comply because he was a big man]. If I allowed him to go, and he crashed into the tender, what would be my use at the scene?
“I was traumatised and provoked already with all those stuffs. The media and the police are one. We need each other. It’s unfortunate. I’m not a violent person. I was already feeling bad that day because people who were supposed to assist during the fire incident were rather frustrating us. This thing has happened; we’ll learn from our mistakes,” ASP Koffie told the media.
Why Christopher was assaulted
Fire engulfed seven business centres on the Commercial Street. Christopher was among the reporters at the scene, filming and gathering information on the midday disaster.
A pack of police officers descended heavily on him with fists and slaps after he advised one of them, who was having trouble using Twi to control a non-Twi-speaking crowd of fire outbreak spectators, to rather speak English or their mother tongue so they might understand and obey his instructions accordingly.
The law enforcers deemed the proposal as an insult and, in rapid response, humiliated him in the full glare of the public, with the commander calling out, “Handcuff him, handcuff him!”, as they dragged him like a criminal towards a police operations pickup.
Overwhelmed by a public outcry against the brutality, the police freed the pressman at the scene of attack. But it did not end there. ASP Eric Van Koffie also dared the assaulted broadcaster in the open to report him anywhere. And, to rub salt into a wound he inflicted, he further spewed out two very unprintable words on the journalist— words the young man would not want to preserve in his diary.
Our challenge is crowd control - Police Headquarters
As radio sets were booming everywhere with a concerted clamour for the perpetrators of the ruthless attack to be hauled before justice, police authorities told the GJA delegation in the meeting of new plans to re-educate police personnel in the region on effective crowd control.
“Youthful exuberance and show of power—that is what might have [caused] what actually happened. The media—we can never exclude you [from] our operations. You are part of us for you to project whatever actions we are taking. But it’s unfortunate this has happened. So, once again, Chris, let me say that we sincerely apologise. Accept our apology.
“We’ll use this to educate the men at any fora that we have to engage them. We’ll definitely have to let them know what is expected of them when it comes to crowd control. One challenge about the police service or our men is crowd control. If we don’t handle such situations very well, mostly it would lead to violence. Lives might be lost. I have had a similar experience. We will not use this to sever our relationship. This should rather bring us closer together [in the interest of] the region,” said ACP Paul Ayitey, the Second- in-Command at the headquarters.
ACP Ayitey also suggested that newshounds should always wear press-tagged jackets and make use of professional cameras, not mobile phones, to film so the police could easily identify them during coverage of security-related incidents. He came up with this suggestion amid contested police claims that an ordinary look of Christopher at the fire outbreak scene made a needless brutality possible.
But the Regional GJA Boss, Eric Amoh, would have none of that. He told the commanders present that provision of news jackets was not within the capabilities of some media houses still battling with logistical headaches and that an advanced mobile phone had become a most preferred choice in modern-day reporting as it helped to wire information to the newsroom faster than a professional camera.
Assaulted Journalist accepts apology on one condition
The Regional GJA Chairman accepted the apologies rendered to the media at the police headquarters. The Regional Police Commander, DCOP Redeemer Vincent Dedjoe, paid for the repairs of the journalist’s mobile phone damaged during the attack.
But Christopher, who is one of the notable voices against police excesses in the region, told Starr News he would only accept the apology if the police would put a stop to brutalisation of civilians in the region.
“It’s not about me. It’s about the people. I will personally accept the apology when I see the change. When they change the way they handle people, their attitude towards civilians that is when I will accept the apology. But if it’s a verbal apology to me and nothing has changed, I will not take such apology,” affirmed the fluent broadcaster who said he had his identity card on him at the scene and that his assailants knew he was a journalist and yet inflicted a street humiliation and wounds on him.
The GJA contingent left the headquarters with Chris, hoping that the next meeting with the police would no longer be 'far' — Fire, Assault and Remorse.
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