Ghana sees disturbing surge in press freedom violations
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for an end to imprisonment for press offences in Ghana, where three journalists have been detained on various grounds since the start of February, and for a full investigation into a case of police violence two weeks ago against a journalist who is still hospitalised.
“In a country where arrests of journalists had become an exception, these new cases of detention and violence are very disturbing,” said Sadibou Marong, the director of RSF’s West Africa bureau. “They are contrary to the exemplarity expected from a country renowned for the quality of its news reporting that is a direct consequence of the freedom with which journalism is practiced there. The authorities must stop resorting to prison sentences for press offences and must prosecute and punish those who assault journalists.”
The most recent victim is Accra FM presenter Kwabena Bobbie Ansah, who was arrested in the capital, Accra, on 10 February on a charge of “publication of false news and offensive conduct” for posting a video on social media claiming that President Nana Akufo-Addo’s two wives fraudulently obtained state land in order to build the headquarters for a foundation. This claim was false, the police investigation said.
Oheneba Boamah Bennie, a journalist with privately-owned Power FM, was sentenced in Accra on 8 February to two weeks in prison and a fine of the equivalent of 414 euros for “contempt of court” in connection with a video posted on Facebook in which he allegedly insulted the president by claiming that, after his reelection in 2020, the president met with eight judges to influence their decision in a legal challenge to the election result by his main rival, John Mahama. Bennie was taken to a prison outside Accra to serve his sentence.
Blessed Godsbrain Smart, a well-known journalist working for Onua TV (a TV station owned by Media Global Group) was arrested on 2 February in an alleged case of extortion, the details of which have not been disclosed by the police. This was the second time that Smart, who is renowned for being very critical of the government, has been arrested in less than three months. Because of his views, he was fired from Angel FM in April 2021 at the government’s request.
An increase in physical violence against journalists is compounding the arrests. Eric Nana Gyetuah, a reporter for Connect FM, a radio station based in the western city of Takoradi, was trying to film a group of detainees on 3 February when the police subjected him to an exceptionally violent assault before handcuffing him and taking him to police station. He is still hospitalised with injuries to the eyes and mouth, and a perforated ear drum.
This was the fifth time a journalist has been attacked in Ghana since the start of the year. In January, a reporter was attacked by a store manager in the western city of Sunyani, a reporter was attacked during a football match by supporters of one of the teams, and two journalists were injured when ten masked men attacked Radio Ada, a community radio 100 km east of Accra.
Ghana is ranked 30th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.