Anyenini Legal Light: Even the security agencies have no right to attack journalists

Lawyer Samson Lardy Anyenini New Samson Lardy Anyenini

Sun, 1 Nov 2020 Source: Samson Lardy Anyenini

Journalists have been threatened with harm, assaulted, unlawfully arrested and detained, and a couple unfortunately killed in Ghana.

Some have had their equipment unlawfully seized even by security officers expected to know and follow the law.

The regional watchdog, Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) has recorded 72 of these violations between 2016 and now. The Ghana Journalists Association has had to issue a statement almost every month in recent years condemning the criminal and unconstitutional conduct.

I have gone to the rescue of many at police stations and successfully sued especially State security over some of these violations. In almost all of the cases, their ‘crime’ was taking a photograph, filming or recording a news event in public, some of which were criminal activities. This morning, I dedicate the awards handed me at the 2019 GJA awards last Sunday to victims of these violations braving the odds to serve God and Country.

I dedicate them to my first News Editor Saeed Ali Yaqub and all who make all the sacrifices to protect journalists. Journalists make mistakes and some do wrong or may even engage in crime. But in our democracy of the rule of law, you commit a crime when you hit a journalist for whatever reasons even if you mistake one for an onion seller as the NPP’s Hajia Fati did and was found guilty both in the civil and criminal courts and slapped with fines she is now challenging in the Court of Appeal.

The attacks have come from individuals and groups, but sadly security agents, the police and military, have been most guilty and responsible for 30 of the attacks recorded by MFWA. Dear journalists, as you cover the elections in December, know that once you are accredited by the EC, you have a special role at the polling station. Regulation 29 of the C.I.127 governing the 2020 elections commands the presiding officer who is in charge of the polling station to treat you like the candidates, their agents and security officers at that station.

If he/she decides to exclude some persons in regulating the number of voters to be admitted each time at the polling station, you, the police and agents belong to the class of persons who shall not be affected. The law commands again that keeping order at the polling station is the job of the presiding officer and he/she is the only one who can authorize a security officer to remove any person disrupting proceedings or disobeying his/her lawful orders.

Stand your ground and do not allow any ignorant candidate, party agent or security officer to abuse your right. The polling station is a public place where you are allowed by law, generally, to take pictures, film or record incidents without permission. What you cannot do is try to breach the secrecy of the vote. Do not hand over your phone or equipment to anybody or security officer demanding it to delete the content and let you go. They do not have any such power.

Please lodge formal complaints against errant journalists and stop attacking and violating their rights. Please support journalists against criminals, hooligans and bullies at the polling station. You are waking up today to the results of Manasseh Azure Awuni’s Contracts for Sale investigative documentary. A man appointed to protect the public purse, your money, at the Public Procurement Authority was rather busy stealing, stashing his bank accounts with millions.

This journalist is not paid by the State and has not been given a gun to catch thieves. The big thieves who steal with the stroke of the pen and bleed the nation poor are hardly or never caught by those paid and equipped to do just that. Do think about the public service and saving power of the work true journalists do.

On the occasion of the UN International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists observed November 2, join me on THE LAW show tomorrow at 2 pm to discuss this subject with the NMC’s George Sarpong and Justice Srem Sai of the GIMPA law faculty.

That’s your legal light.

October 31, 2020

Columnist: Samson Lardy Anyenini