President Nana Akufo-Addo has a staunch reputation as a human rights advocate. Indeed he has an enviable record of standing up for human rights, and his career as a lawyer and politician is littered with examples of this record.
He has been a vocal advocate for press freedoms, and the right to free speech. However recent arrests of persons who have been vocal against government and various government agencies will be a cause of concern for many.
One of the greatest tenets of democracy is that people be able to freely express views which they hold, however strong they made be, provided they do not have the tendency to cause public chaos.
This article will take a look at some recent arrests of various persons and activists in the country, and match them up against the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and expression; including press freedom.
It must be emphasized however that every right comes with accompanying responsibilities, and freedom of speech cannot be interpreted to mean freedom of reckless expression. But in as much as citizens must be guarded in what they say, arrests for seeming trivialities has the tendency of putting citizens on edge and in constant fear.
For greater emphasis, portions of Article 21 of the 1992 Constitution is reproduced as follows:
(1) All persons shall have the right to -
(a) freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom
of the press and other media;
(b) freedom of thought, conscience and belief, which shall include
(c) freedom to practice any religion and to manifest such practice;
(d) freedom of assembly including freedom to take part in
processions and demonstrations;
Bull Dog Arrest:
It was reported on 10th June 2020 that artist Manager Lawrence Nana Asiamah, popularly known as Bulldog had been picked up by the Ghana police, for insults aimed at the police service. He is alleged to have remarked on live radio that his toddler daughter has more sense than the police.
Verdict: His statement is a thin line between a strong opinion and an insult, but in my opinion, if this indeed was his only offence, this arrest went too far.
His statements do seem to be well within his rights to free speech and expression; citizens should be able to express such strong views about the police without fear of arrest. Perhaps the onus lies on the police to create a better public image of themselves?
Prior to the President delivering his 10th covid-19 address to the country, the Angel FM reporter accurately predicted the contents of the president’s address, citing various sources.
When the President finally did deliver his speech, the earlier predictions by the reporter proved accurate. In response the Criminal Investigations Department picked him u for questioning.
Verdict: In as much as State secrets are to be jealously guarded, the contents of the President’s speech cannot by any stretch of the imagination be reasonably regarded as a State secret so as to warrant the reaction of the CID. Again it is my opinion that this action was highly unnecessary and served no purpose other than to paint a picture of press intolerance.
The National Communications Director of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) was in January arrested by the police minutes after appearing on a live radio talk show. He was accused of forgery of documents and spreading false information to cause fear and panic in the country.
Verdict: Various opposition parties in this country have from time to time been known to pull various tricks out of the bag. Although the full details of this particular arrest are still not fully known, the fact that no further action has been taken would seem to suggest that it was much ado about nothing. My verdict would be to caution the opposition and future oppositions to be truthful and circumspect in whatever information they put out.
Ebenezer Atsu and Sherperd Acolatse:
In 2018, the Volta Regional Police Command released a statement saying it had arrested the two gentlemen for allegedly casting spells on prominent persons in the country. These included the Asantehene, Otumfour Osei Tutu II and President Nana Akufo-Addo.
These events occurred in the build up to the referendum to decide on whether the Oti Region would be carved out of the Volta Region. At the time, the Volta Regional Police Commander was quoted as saying the gentlemen were involved in spiritual threats against certain prominent personalities in response to the planned referendum. They were accused of visiting a shrine to this effect.
Verdict: What makes this arrest even the more baffling is the fact that the law does not recognize so-called spiritual attacks. It thus makes one wonder how these arrests were sanctioned. This incident in my opinion casts a slur on the government and only goes to deepen whatever perceptions one may have of an intolerant government.
As stated in my opening paragraphs, the President Nana Akufo-Addo is widely renowned for his human rights record. Such needless and petty arrests however do risk tarnishing his record if not checked.
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