Ensure full accountability for police violence against protesters, journalists – MFWA

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) deplores the brutal attacks and violent arrests of several demonstrators in Accra and calls on the authorities in Ghana to investigate the mayhem which also saw some journalists assaulted.

Hundreds of Ghanaians gathered outside the Jubilee House, Ghana’s presidential palace, on September 22, 2023, for a protest against economic hardship, according to the organisers, Democracy Hub.  However, barely 15 minutes after the gathering, heavily armed officers swooped on the protesters, brutalised some and arrested many others. Many of the protesters were detained late into the night at several police stations in Accra, with a few spending the night in police cells.

The Police said in a statement said 49 people were involved, adding that they were arrested for “the flagrant disregard of a court process.”

The organisers, Democracy Hub, dispute the police claim, insisting that the process had not resulted in an injunction being served on them to from demonstrating.

One of the victims, Franklin Mensah, told the MFWA in a telephone conversation that he was arrested alongside 14 others simply for wearing protest T-shirts. “

“We were standing at the 37 Military Hospital bus stop after being dispersed from the gathering point outside the Jubilee House. Then some police officers arrived in three pick-up cars. They initially invited us to “talk to you”, but ended up driving us to the police headquarters. Then they picked us up in groups and sent us into detention at different police stations, still without telling us our offense. I was released around 9 o’clock in the evening”, Mensah said.

Accra-based JoyNews reported that the police interrupted its crew’s interview with a protester and hauled away the interviewee.

While not downplaying the unwarranted attacks and arrests of the protesters, the MFWA finds it disheartening that the police extended their hostility to the media. In the said incident involving the JoyNews crew, the police pushed aside the reporter, Maxwell Agbagba, in a fit of bad temper, before dragging away protester who was being interviewed.

The police also assaulted a reporter with Metro TV and arrested a BBC reporter, Thomas Naadi alongside his cameraman in the orgy of indiscriminate crackdown. The MFWA has also seen a YouTube video in which Metro TV’s Bridget Otoo recounts how her dress was ripped off by the rampaging police officers.

Protests are part of the formal channels of expressing dissent in any democratic society and its policing is a matter of law and not arbitrariness and wanton brutality as the Ghana police sadly demonstrated. We support the protest organisers’ argument that in the absence of actual service, the Police application for an injunction does not operate automatically to stop them from proceeding with the protest.

In any case, even participants in a banned protest still have a right to decent treatment and protection against cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment as guaranteed under international human rights instruments and Ghana’s constitution. The mass arrests and widespread assault on what was clearly a peaceful protest also failed to meet the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality under international law, while widespread seizure of phones and other digital devices without judicial authorisation is flagrant abuse of the victims’ right to privacy.

The MFWA reiterates its abhorrence of police violence against peaceful protesters and urges the authorities to ensure full accountability for the disastrous policing the world witnessed on September 21, 2023, from the Ghana police in order to restore public confidence in the service.

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