Opinions Fri, 8 Feb 2019
On Jan. 16, our colleague Ahmed Hussein-Suale was assassinated. He was killed around midnight near his family home in Madina, a vibrant Muslim market town near Accra, Ghana’s capital.In the dry season, the night in Madina smells like wood smoke and spiced rice. The call to prayer comes like clockwork. The bubbling market is alive at all hours. Some residents are middle class, some are poor, but this is not the violent, desperate Africa fetishized by first-world movies and charities. One never hears gunfire.
Then, three weeks ago, shots rang out. Ahmed was driving his car when men on motorbikes shot him in the chest and throat. Dying, he crashed into a shop. They followed him in and finished him off. His wife and young children survive. First, we stifled grief and did practical things. We increased security. We attended to his family. We rallied press freedom groups and allies in governments. We began assisting the Ghanaian police investigation, which is ongoing. (Ghana’s president has demanded that the“perpetrators of this heinous crime” be brought to justice.)
Today we gather in Accra to honour Ahmed, a fearless undercover journalist and one of our team for nearly a decade. Ahmed was unassuming, respectful, hardworking, devout. He never shirked his responsibilities as a father and a husband. He died because he dared to expose how power and secrecy enrich the corrupt.
We produce journalistic investigations targeting organized crime and corruption. Last year, we completed an exposé of corruption in international soccer. The BBC broadcast our findings, shaming powerful figures in sports and politics. Sprawling across 16 countries, the investigation required a large team. Ahmed was one of the lead journalists.
We had expected to find corruption, and indeed dozens of officials were filmed taking illegal payments, including a referee scheduled to work the World Cup in Moscow. But then the stakes were raised much higher. Kwesi Nyantakyi, a member of the FIFA Council — the sport’s global governing body — was caught on camera pitching not just fixed matches and sweetheart sponsorships but billions in Ghanaian infrastructure contracts. He solicited, in exchange, $11 million in bribes for himself and politicians. Then, “we would take over the country,” he bragged, unaware he had been filmed.
As the date approached for us to release these findings, Nyantakyi and his allies launched a vicious intimidation campaign. Nyantakyi phoned Ahmed and threatened, “If you do these things to people like us, you can lose your life just like that.” Then Kennedy Agyapong, a member of Ghana’s parliament whom Nyantakyi had named on secret camera as key to his bribery scheme, broadcast Ahmed’s photo and whereabouts. The MP said on live TV he would pay for violence targeting Ahmed.
Serious precautions were taken. But seven months later, Ahmed was killed. It is not yet known by whom.
Journalists worldwide are killed and persecuted. Most disappear in anonymity. Only a few cases become infamous, like the murder and dismemberment of The Post’s own Jamal Khashoggi. Ahmed’s murder was big and shocking news in Ghana, a bastion of press freedom in Africa. Ghana is ranked first on the continent and 23rd in the world by Reporters without Borders. Violence against Ghanaian journalists is almost unheard-of.
We remain grateful for the support of all — including some quite powerful people — who condemned Ahmed’s murder. Yet we observe with dismay that, globally, the political principles that sustain press freedom are in decline. And that means more journalists will die.
Freedom of inquiry, criticism, expression and publication; the sanctity of the individual above state and corporation; the principle that neither power nor wealth should grant impunity — where do these ideals thrive today? Where are they nourished and defended, and by whom?
For many journalists, dissidents and activists in repressive countries, America has cast some light in the darkness. U.S. advocacy for democracy and human rights has been massively influential. Many journalists globally have been helped by U.S. officials who helped precisely because they believed to do so upheld American ideals.
The United States has long indulged tyranny abroad where its perceived interests so compelled it, and the country has long struggled to realize fully its own ideals at home. But America’s demons have had to contend with its better angels — its strong Bill of Rights, tradition of social progress and advocacy for democratic principles. In too many places, there are no such angels. Human rights have been on America’s agenda. Are they still?
Now U.S. journalists critical of the government are vilified, targeted at political rallies and denounced as “enemies of the people.” U.S. officials at the highest levels seemed to excuse Jamal Khashoggi’s murder and aid the coverup. Policy decisions and political tactics project overt contempt for human rights. We fear the light is fading.
Today we are in Ghana to remember a fallen colleague. And today, in Ahmed’s name, we urge that the United States not abandon its moral leadership and aspiration. For many around the world, the United States is a great republic and still remains the greatest hope for freedom.
Columnist: Anas Aremeyaw Anas