Opinions Sat, 24 Jul 2010

Freedom of Speech in Ghana

In 1992, the fourth republic of Ghana adopted a constitution in which the right to free speech was forever enshrined. The 1992 constitution declares in no equivocal terms that: All persons shall have the right to -freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media. The constitution guarantees that the press and every individual in Ghana has the right to say anything that they want, whenever that they want and wherever that they want. Furthermore the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, and to which Ghana is a signatory, also states in Article 19 that: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Hence the freedom to express one’s opinion without any kind of censorship is a natural right guaranteed by the highest law of our land, the Constitution, and also guaranteed by the entire human race through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There should be no confusion about this freedom. This right to freely express ourselves is not contingent on the whims and caprice of any government.

Contrary to popular misconception too, we are not granted this right in exchange for any kind of responsibility. Therefore it will be erroneous to suggest that this right can be revoked if not used with responsibility. The only time that this right may be revoked is when its use by an individual threatens the very life of another individual. Short of that, the right is sacred and inviolable.

In 1960 Kwame Nkrumah with the ruling CPP tried to strengthen their hold on power in Ghana and therefore passed a Criminal Code in which section 208 criminalized “any statement, rumor or report which is likely to cause fear and alarm to the public or to disturb the public peace, knowing or having reason to believe that the statement, rumor or report is false.” This law is repugnant and contradicts the spirit of the 1992 constitution which enshrines free speech. The greatest problem with this law, however, is the fact that it is liable to abuse by any government that does not believe in free speech. It seems as if Ghana finally has a government that does not believe in free speech.

Earlier this year, Nana Darkwah was hauled off to court by the police and charged with section 208 for making a statement to the effect that ex-president Rawlings burnt his own house. In what way does this statement cause fear and alarm in the public? In what way does this statement disturb the public peace?

Nana Darkwah was expressing his own opinion, a right that is granted to him by the constitution of our land and the UDHR to which Ghana is a signatory. His opinion was misguided, certainly, and probably false too but it was his own opinion. Notice that the constitution does not give the right to free true speech but it gives the right to free speech.

If the ex-president felt aggrieved with what Nana Darkwah had said, he should have instituted civil proceedings on the grounds of libel against Nana Darkwah. But what did we see? The police jumped in and shamefully and reprehensibly applied section 208 and hauled him off to court. His case is still pending and I sincerely hope the court will throw it out and charge the police with wasting the time of the court.

It wasn’t long after that a certain “High Priest” who has very little respect for himself and the president decided to say that the president looks like a chimpanzee. This was a comment in very bad taste and no self-respecting person should say something like that. But again, “High Priest” was only exercising the right granted to him by the constitution. The police again tried to arrest him but this time the president intervened and ordered the police to back off.

If this case had been allowed to go on, he would certainly have been charged with section 208. Does anyone see a disturbing trend emerging here? In all these cases, I do not see the police acting alone here. Anyone familiar with Ghanaian politics will agree that some individuals in the Mills administration instigated the police to these actions. If no one did, then the Mills Administration is still complicit for not ensuring that the police was doing its job properly. In any case any blame for these misguided applications of the law and human right abuses should be laid squarely at the feet of the administration.

Then fast forward to the situation of Ato Kwamena Dadzie. Some two weeks back Ato Kwamena Dadzie while on a show on Joy FM declared that some individuals in GREDA had received death threats. The hawks in the Mills Administration had their usual knee jerk reaction. They probably fumed that Mr. Dadzie had dared to publish such a story. Whether the story was a fabrication or the truth, Joy FM and Mr. Dadzie were within their rights to publish the story. The constitution had already sanctioned their actions as completely acceptable.

The Mills Administration, claiming that the story was false, came out with a rejoinder. This issue should have then died out. If someone publishes a story about you and you think that it is false, you write a rejoinder, period! People in the Administration did not feel that was sufficient and decided to cause the arrest of Mr. Dadzie using section 208 of the criminal code. They also tried to force him to reveal his sources as if they were not aware that it was unethical for a journalist to reveal his sources. Mr. Dadzie’s arrest is shameful since the news he published did not cause any public fear and especially also when he was clearly in his right to do so.

In addition we woke up to the news that the editor of the Ghanaian times was also going to be charged with that same section 208. The government is fast proving to Ghanaians that it is intolerant of criticism in any form. That it does not respect media freedom neither will it uphold the constitution of the land.

So obsessed is the government with itself that Koku Anyidohu, communication director at the Castle, made some infuriating comments today. He charged that Ghanaians were suffering from “Media Tyranny”. What does “Media Tyranny” even mean Mr. Anyidohu? He went on to state that Ghanaians were getting nauseated and fed up with the media.

I would like to tell the communication director right now that we Ghanaians are not fed up with the media. We love the media and love the fact that our country has enjoyed freedom of the press for some time now. Moreover we are grateful to the media since we recognize the fact that they are the only ones protecting our rights, speaking for us and ensuring government accountability. If these moves to strong arm the media into submission, to publish only flattering stories about the government continue, then 2012 cannot come soon enough for Ghanaians.

I will close with a list of demands:

Long live the constitution, long live Ghana.

John Kwame Adams

Kansas City


Columnist: Adams, John Kwame