Tuesday July 2, 2013 marked a watershed in the 2012 Presidential Petition before the Supreme Court (SC), when a member of the NDC’s Communication Team (Mr Atugiba) and the Managing Editor of the Searchlight Newspaper (Mr Ken Kuranchie) were jailed by the SC for three and ten days respectively for contempt of court. Since then, different opinions (pro and against) have been expressed by both individuals and organisations, paticularly, regarding the jailing of a newspaper editor and the potential implications on freedom of speech and free press. Mr Atugiba has since completed his sentence and been released from prison. Unfortunately, Mr Kuranchie still languishes in prison and there is no sign of an early release for good behaviour or for serving half of the jail term (as in the UK where all convicts serve only half of custodial sentences below four years). Media reports indicate that, the main opposition party (NPP) whose presidential candidate is challenging the 2012 presidential election is throwing its support behind the convicted editor. In this article, I intend to analyse the potential implications, if any, of NPP’s actions.I must admit that, I admire Mr Kuranchie for standing up to his principles, even if he was wrong. His efforts, though abysmal, to defend his right to freedom of speech and free press before the Justices is something that he be should be applauded for. He went down fighting and that was a message that, there are Ghanaians who are prepared to challenge authority in defence of their constitutional rights. This is not to say that what he was reported to have written is appropriate and legal.
It is well established that individual media houses (print media, radio, television, etc) across the world are either aligned to the right or left wing ideologies and Ghana is no exception. There are media houses in Ghana who are pro and anti NDC/NPP. These media houses have become part and parcel of the political divide in the country along the lines of NDC and NPP, or perhaps, they are the conduit of the divide. The Searchlight is considered a staunch supporter of the NPP and therefore a medium to propagate the ideals and interests of the party. It was therefore no surprise that the editor did not only support the accusation levelled against the Justices but even went further to say that the accusation was right despite a court warning, which led his incarceration for contempt court.
I expected the Volta regional branch of the Ghana Journalist Association, which I believe Mr Kuranchie is a member to have visited him in Ho Prison. Instead, it was reported that the Volta Regional Executive of NPP visited him. It was also reported that the National Organiser of NPP, Alhaji Moctar Bamba will pay a visit with a delegation of 20 party members. The General Secretary of NPP is reported to have asked the prison authorities to make special provision for the visit though the inmate has already exhausted his visit period for the week (see “Ho NPP feeds Ken Kuranchie with banku and tilapia”, Ghanweb, July 4, 2013, “I want more banku and tilapia - Kuranchie requests from prison”, “NPP delegation to visit jailed Ken Kuranchie today” and “NPP delegation 'prevented' from seeing Kuranchie in prison”, all of Ghanweb, July 5, 2013).
There is no doubt that Mr Kuranchie deserves sympathy and support for standing up to what he believes in and for fighting for freedom of expression and free press, even if he used the wrong method. However, the question is, should the sympathy come officially from a political party? I know some readers will say that NDC supported Tsatsu Tsikata and others when they were jailed by courts of competent jurisdiction. Were the cases ongoing?
I am not sure if Mr Kuranchie is a card bearing member of the NPP but even if he is, does NPP consider it appropriate to offer him an official support? Could individual members of the party not have visited him in their personal capacity rather than as officials of the party? Does the NPP, a party that claims to be a party of law and order and respecter of rule of law not see anything wrong with officially supporting someone who has been convicted of a crime of contempt of court not only by a court of competent jurisdiction but the highest court of the land in an ongoing case? Does NPP believe that it is right and appropriate to officially support a person who was convicted of contempt of court in a matter that it is a party to?
I was shocked to read on Ghanaweb that a book on the ongoing election petition had been written to be launched on July 5, 2013 by people who are very close to NPP’s 2012 presidential candidate (see “NPP to launch 'Pink sheets' book on Tuesday” and “NPP's Election Petition book launch postponed”, Ghanaweb July 4 and 5, 2013 respectively).
It is interesting to note that the party that is full of lawyers is behaving as above on these matters. By these actions, what message is the party sending to the country and the Supreme Court? Are the party’s actions indications that they supported what Mr Kuranchie published for which he has been convicted of contempt of court? Are these to say to the Supreme Court that, indeed, the Justices were selective and hypocritical and therefore they were wrong in jailing him or what? Is the writing of a book on the election petition that is still pending before the court not contempt of court?
I have no answers to these questions, except to say that, whilst the presidential petition is pending before the Supreme Court and until a verdict is given by the Justices, the leadership, members and supporters of both NPP and NDC must be very careful how they respond to matters relating to the petition.
I am not a lawyer, but one does not need to be a legal luminary to know that the actions and omissions of the main opposition party, NPP in relation to the 2012 presidential petition in the past two days are nothing but contempt and total disrespect to the Supreme Court. I wonder who makes such decisions within the party but the party now appears to be leaderless or if it is being led by the National Executive, then, their decisions on these matters are disturbing, to say the least. They constitute a monumental error of judgement.
They are also a dent the party’s reputation as the alleged leading party of rule of law with a strong belief in democracy. It could also lose them public sympathy and support for the petition. I once posted an article challenging the view that the Busia-Danquah tradition is a party of rule and law. The behaviour of the party leadership in the last two days has convinced me that the party is far from what it claims to be (see “NPP is Anti-Rule of Law”, Ghanaweb January 13, 2012).
They can make Ken Kuranchie their hero but they should remember that, there will be a price to pay for wanting to make him what he is not in the eyes of Ghanaian public.
Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK