The Media Foundation of West Africa (MFWA) with three other media organisations has called on the government of President Nana Akufo-Addo to annul aspects of two laws which continue to criminalize free expression even though Ghana repealed its criminal libel law two decades ago.
The call which was made by the MFWA together Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA) and the Private Newspapers Publishers Association of Ghana (PRINPAG) in a joint press conference on Thursday, April 20, specified the Electronic Communications Act, 2008 (Act 775) and the Criminal and Other Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29) as the laws in question.
The coalition particularized Section 76 of Act 775 and Section 208 of Act 29 as the problematic provisions of the laws. Originally targeted at the publication of false information, the two provisions have continuously been used by authorities to harass, arrest and prosecute journalists over their work.
“We recognize that the media and journalists can sometimes be reckless and unprofessional to the extent of publishing false and defamatory stories. Fortunately, the laws of the country provide aggrieved entities remedies for civil actions against citizens, journalists and media organizations.
“It is regrettable, therefore, that repressive provisions of the Electronic Communications Act and the Criminal and other offences Act are being weaponized to muzzle free speech under the Akufo-Addo regime,” said the President of the GJA, Albert Kwabena Dwumfour.
On behalf of the GJA which is a leading member of the coalition, Mr. Dwumfour who addressed the press demanded: “repeal these two laws!”
The press conference comes in the wake of the recent detention of a Radio Ada journalist, Noah Dameh, over a Facebook post concerning business mogul and CEO of the McDan Group of companies, Daniel McKorley. Mr. McKorley’s company, Electrochem, has been facing indigens’ resistance after it was controversially awarded a contract by the government to mine salt at Ada in Ghana’s Greater Accra Region.
Noah Dameh has been in and out of detention after he was first charged with publishing false news in August 2022 and subsequently remanded into custody by a court in March 2023.
The Radio Ada journalist has not been the only victim – in February 2022, the Police arrested Accra FM journalist, Kwabena Bobbie Ansah on the charge of publication of false news and offensive conduct for a video he posted on social media which claimed that the President’s wife had illegally acquired state lands.
In February of the same year, the Executive Director of an anti-corruption organization, Alliance for Social Equity and Public Accountability (ASEPA), Mensah Thompson, was arrested by the police for publishing allegations that members of the President’s family travelled by the Presidential jet to the UK for shopping.
The coalition points out that these arrests and prosecutions are totally unbecoming of the government led by President Akufo-Addo who actually oversaw the repeal of the criminal libel law when he was Attorney General of the John Kufuor government in 2001. The press conference also reminded the President about his position on the problematic provisions in question in a lecture he granted in 2011, labelling them as unconstitutional.
“Our job is basically to remind him that, Mr. President, these were your views, we are still operating the same constitution, we are still talking about the same laws and these positions that you upheld are basically what we are saying we are in support of. You know we support you and we want you to take action in line with your convictions at that time,” said Mr. Sulemana Braimah, Executive Director of the MFWA who also addressed the press conference.
Ghana officially repealed its criminal libel and seditious law on July 27, 2001. However, in the years after that, Section 76 of Act 775 and Section 208 of Act 29, have proven to be vestiges of these repealed laws. The MFWA has long campaigned for their repeal making the current call yet another rehash.