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Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Ghana

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1997
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Ghana, February 1997, available at: [accessed 22 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

President Jerry Rawlings' National Democratic Congress (NDC) government targeted the independent press with legal actions aimed at repressing unfavorable reporting on the state and its officials. Using the Supreme Court's July ruling that all citizens are subject to provisions under seditious libel laws and a 1960 law prohibiting defamation of the state, among other restrictive laws, the state charged journalists who wrote articles deemed "unacceptable" with seditious libel and contempt of court. Despite the government's intolerance for "false reporting," the NDC engaged in smear campaigns against its critics, using newspapers, such as the Ghanaian Palaver, as weapons through which to carry out its vendetta.

The government-owned daily newspapers, the Ghanaian Times and the Daily Graphic, rarely publish articles critical of government policy or state officials. Reporters working for the state media who are accused of unfavorable reporting are vulnerable to disciplinary action or dismissal. Consequently, many state journalists practice self-censorship to avoid government reprisals.

The government controls the principal radio and television stations, which broadcast throughout the country. Despite the Ghana Frequency Registration and Control Board's (GFRB) non-refundable "commitment fees" of US$20,000 and US$40,000 for radio and television respectively, six independent radio stations and a private television station began operations by year's end.

February 9
Nana Kofi Coomson, The Ghanaian Chronicle, IMPRISONED, HARASSED
Eben Quarcoo, The Free Press, IMPRISONED, HARASSED
Tommy Thompson, Tommy Thompson Books, Ltd., IMPRISONED, ATTACKED, HARASSED

On Feb. 9, police arrested and questioned Coomson, the editor in chief of the independent daily Ghanaian Chronicle, and later released him on bail of 10 million cedis (US$6, 700). Quarcoo, the editor of The Free Press, and Thompson, its publisher, had been away from their offices when police delivered a summons ordering them to report to police headquarters for questioning the same day. Instead, they reported to police headquarters Feb. 12 and each was released on bail of 10 million cedis after interrogation. On Feb. 14, Circuit Court Judge Nuhu Bila revoked the bail without explanation, and the three were immediately remanded into custody. Counsel for the journalists filed an appeal with the High Court. Coomson, Quarcoo, and Thompson were charged with "publishing false news with the intent of injuring the reputation of the State," a violation of Section 185 of the Criminal Code of 1960, an ordinance from the colonial era. If convicted, they could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. The Free Press and the Ghanaian Chronicle reprinted in their January 31 and February 1 editions, respectively, a story published in the New York-based biweekly The African Observer, which reported that the Ghanaian diplomat Frank Benneh, of the Ghanaian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, had been arrested in Switzerland for selling drugs. The article also alleged that President Jerry Rawlings of Ghana had used proceeds from illegal drug sales to buy arms. On Feb. 15, CPJ sent a letter of protest to President Rawlings, calling for the immediate release of the three journalists and the repeal of Section 185 of the antiquated Criminal Code. On Feb. 23, Judge Bila granted bail in the amount of 6 million cedis (US$4, 000) for the journalists, who were then released. Judge Bila also referred the constitutional issues of the case to the Supreme Court. The criminal case has been adjourned until the Supreme Court renders a decision.

April 17
Eben Quarcoo, The Free Press, HARASSED, LEGAL ACTION
Tommy Thompson, Tommy Thompson Books, Ltd., HARASSED, LEGAL ACTION

Quarcoo, editor of the weekly The Free Press, and Thompson, owner of Tommy Thompson Books, the newspaper's publisher, were summoned by the police to answer accusations that they violated Section 185 of the 1960 Criminal Code, which forbids "publishing falsehoods with the intent of injuring the reputation of the state." They were detained for five hours, interrogated, then released without charge on bail of 10 million cedis (US$6, 700) each. The detention was in connection with an April 10 article in The Free Press. The story, based on an article originally published in the March 14-27 issue of the New York biweekly The African Observer, alleged that Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings had impregnated the daughter of former Togolese head of state Nicholas Yao Grunitzky. CPJ condemned the detention of Quarcoo and Thompson in a letter to President Rawlings.

August 9
Cofie Ammuako-Annan, Ghanaian Chronicle, IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION
General Portfolio, LEGAL ACTION
Kofi Coomson, Ghanaian Chronicle, LEGAL ACTION
Darkwa, Ghanaian Chronicle, LEGAL ACTION

Ammuako-Annan, acting editor of the independent daily Ghanaian Chronicle, was convicted of contempt of court, sentenced to 30 days' imprisonment, and incarcerated, and the newspaper's publishing company, General Portfolio, was fined 1 million cedis (US$700). Ammuako-Annan was released on Aug. 30. Ghanaian Chronicle directors Coomson and Darkwa, who had also been charged with contempt, were acquitted. The charges stemmed from the newspaper's criticism of a high court judge's courtroom behavior during a murder trial. The judge had ordered a news blackout of the murder-trial proceedings.

November 25
Opiesie Nkansa-Daaduam, The Free Press, HARASSED

Nkansa-Daaduam, a columnist with the independent weekly The Free Press, was arrested in his office by agents of the military police, who then drove him to the Bureau of National Investigation. Nkansa-Daaduam was accused of publishing "subversive and treasonable" material in a Nov. 20 article about the televised speech of a military officer. In a letter to President Jerry Rawlings, CPJ denounced Nkansa-Daaduam's arrest and requested his immediate and unconditional release. Nkansa-Daaduam was released approximately 24 hours after his arrest.

Copyright notice: © Committee to Protect Journalists. All rights reserved. Articles may be reproduced only with permission from CPJ.

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