The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) has read the March 15, 2023, ruling of the High Court on the defamation case brought by journalist Anas Aremayaw Anas against the Member of Parliament for Assin Central, Kennedy Agyapong, and wishes to make the following comments:
- As an organisation that works to promote the rights of journalists and the freedom of expression of citizens, we found the suit quite interesting, as it pitched an aggrieved journalist against a lawmaker who was exercising his right to freedom of expression. It has been our expectation that justice would be served and seen to have been served by all parties.
- We are informed that lawyers for Mr. Kennedy Agyapong petitioned the Chief Justice and obtained approval for Justice Eric Baah, then an interim judge, to be recalled to handle the case “to finality.” At that time, a substantive judge had been appointed to take over the case. This, we are informed, was without the knowledge of the plaintiff.
- Without wishing to go into the merits of the judgment, we wish to express serious concern about scathing remarks by the judge on the person and character of the plaintiff. For example, the judge described Anas as a “blackmailer, corrupt, extortionist and evil.” We find it rather worrying that a judge will formulate his opinion of a journalist’s work in such abusive and slanderous terms.
- We have also been educated by lawyers, who say this was a civil case, and for a judge to come to criminal conclusions is out of order.
- The MFWA finds it curious that even though the ruling did not indicate Kennedy Agyapong produced any evidence to back his murder accusations during the hearing, the judge dismissed the case and proceeded to award costs against the journalist.
- We wish to point out the interesting paradox that Kennedy Agyapong, who incited violence against Anas’ team, including Ahmed Suale, who was later killed, is rather accusing the journalist of murder.
- Against this background, and the decision in respect of the choice of Justice Eric Baah to handle the case “to finality” as well as the judge’s unfortunate pronouncements about the plaintiff, the MFWA feels nothing but utter disappointment.
- We find these developments and the eventual outcome of the case disturbing and while Anas is entitled to appeal or pursue any other judicial process, we call on the Chief Justice and the judiciary not to act in ways that undermine journalism practice in the country. While we at the MFWA will not hesitate to call out any journalist who deviates from ethical standards, we are worried that such sweeping and seemingly emotional outbursts by Justice Eric Baah have the potential to dampen the spirits of journalists who are sacrificing to uphold Ghana’s democracy and encourage detractors to attack journalists.