The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) condemns the arrest of Selorm Gborbidzi, of a reporter of the Accra-based The Finder newspaper and call on the police authorities to drop all charges against him.
The reporter was arrested on January 14, 2021 after a police officer, Sergeant Solomon Tackie, accused him of filming a scuffle between him and a driver of a commercial vehicle together with his conductor.
Narrating the incident to the MFWA, Gborbidzi said a scuffle ensued between the police officer and the motorists for breaching traffic regulations at a bus stop near the University of Ghana, Legon. The reporter, who was on the said vehicle, began to video the scene. Sergeant Tackie then confronted him and tried to seize his phone. In the face of resistance by the journalist, the police officer called his colleagues of the Motorbike Unit of the Legon Police Station for help.
“I resisted his attempt and he called for backup from the office,” the reporter said.
“Some 15 minutes after the incident started, the squad car arrived. One of the officers grabbed me and shoved me into the car, and they drove me to the Legon Police Station, few metres away.”
The reporter said the police officers tried to take his phone while driving him away amidst stiff resistance from him. The demand to hand over his phone was repeated at the police station but the reporter resisted because he had not put any form of security or code on his phone to protect it.
“I again insisted that until I had secured my phone, I could not safely hand it to them.
Even after eventually handing over the phone upon persuasion from Sergeant Tackie, the journalist was asked to remove his shoes and socks before being shoved into the police cells. Gborbidzi spent about four hours in detention before his editor arrived and secured his release.
The police told the Elvis Darko, Editor of The FINDER, that the reporter has been charged with obstruction of justice, illegally filming a police officer in the line of duty and insulting a police officer.
The Editor expressed indignation at the treatment meted out to his reporter.
“To arrest and lock up a journalist in police cell for filming an altercation between a policeman (a public official on duty) and a commercial bus (tro-tro) driver in the full glare of everybody around is an act of intimidation, harassment and human rights abuse of the journalist.
The police administration must be seen to be punishing such errant officers as a deterrent to others,” Elvis Darko said.
The MFWA equally condemns the arrest and detention of Gborbidzi as unwarranted, repressive and retrogressive. It is an act of overzealousness on the part of police officers which needlessly brings the name of the police into the news headlines for the wrong reasons.
We expect police officers carrying out their legitimate duties in public and confident that they are conducting themselves professionally not to panic over the filming of their activities. And we urge the police to negotiate with the journalists when such filming occurs rather than abuse their authority. Journalists have sensitive material on their phones, including possibly, details about their sources. It is therefore an invasion of their privacy to seize and search their phones.
The MFWA therefore urges the police to drop all charges against the journalist and calls on the authorities to take steps to prevent a recurrence of this incident.