Protests at the imprisonment in July of two journalists, Kweku Baako and Haruna Atta (see below), highlighted the use of both contempt and criminal libel laws to imprison newspaper editors. Two criminal libel trials proceeded. One was of Ebenezer Quarcoo, former editor of the Free Press newspaper, and Tommy Thompson, publisher of the Free Press and former prisoner of conscience, who died in September; in 1995 they had been arrested, charged and released after a few days to await trial. The second trial was of Ebenezer Quarcoo, Tommy Thompson and Kofi Coomson, editor-in-chief of the Ghanaian Chronicle newspaper; they had been arrested in 1996, charged and released on bail after about 10 days. The criminal libel laws provide for up to 10years' imprisonment for false reporting likely to injure the reputation of the government.
In July the Supreme Court ruled that the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) had jurisdiction to investigate government actions before the 1992 Constitution came into force and in cases where statutes of limitations had prevented investigations by the courts. In 1997 the government had sought to stop the CHRAJ from ordering redress in cases of arbitrary dismissal prior to the restoration of civilian rule in 1993.
The Supreme Court also ruled in July that the CHRAJ's powers to review government confiscations of property before the 1992 Constitution came into force did not extend to confiscations authorized by special courts set up by military decree. Such courts, outside the normal judicial system and not independent of government control, included Special Courts set up by the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council in 1979 and Public Tribunals set up by the Provisional National Defence Council in 1982, both military governments led by Flight-Lieutenant (now President) J.J. Rawlings following coups in 1979 and 1981.
The Supreme Court had still given no date for hearing an application made by the CHRAJ in early 1996 to investigate allegations that the government was involved in the killing of five demonstrators by armed government supporters in Accra in May 1995 (see Amnesty International Report 1998).
At least eight possible prisoners of conscience arrested in previous years remained imprisoned throughout 1998. Karim Salifu Adam, a member of the opposition New Patriotic Party, was sent for retrial in July 1997 because no judgment had been reached in his treason trial before one of the judges died, although all the evidence had been heard. In February 1998 the Supreme Court rejected a defence application against a retrial. His allegations that he was tortured while in incommunicado and illegal detention after his arrest in May 1994 were not thoroughly and impartially investigated (see previous Amnesty International Reports).
No judgment was given in the treason trial which began in 1997 of five possible prisoners of conscience Sylvester Addai-Dwomoh, Kwame Alexander Ofei, Kwame Ofori-Appiah, Emmanuel Kofi Osei and John Kwadwo Owusu-Boakye (see previous Amnesty International Reports). Some of the defendants alleged that they had been beaten and ill-treated to coerce them into making incriminating statements. The High Court trying the case ruled such statements admissible despite evidence, from prosecution witnesses as well as from some of the defendants, that soldiers who later testified for the state and defendants had been beaten following their arrest.
On 23 July the Court of Appeal sentenced two newspaper editors to one month's imprisonment and fined each publisher 10 million cedis (about US$4,350) for contempt of court in connection with a civil libel case brought by the Head of State's wife, Nana Konadu Agyemang-Rawlings. It overturned an earlier High Court ruling that Kweku Baako of The Guide and Haruna Atta of The Statesman were not in contempt of court. They were alleged to have ignored an earlier court injunction, brought in connection with the civil libel case, not to make any further libellous statement about the complainant. The Chief Justice refused to grant a stay or hear an appeal against the contempt conviction on the grounds that all the other Supreme Court judges had started their three-month holidays.
At least two political prisoners remained in prison; they had been sentenced to death for treason in the mid-1980s after trials by special courts which failed to conform with international standards for fair trial. Former Captain Adjei Edward Ampofo was tried in absentia by Public Tribunal in 1983 and former Sergeant Oduro Frimpong was tried in camera by Public Tribunal in 1985. Their death sentences were commuted in 1997.
No prisoners were known to have been sentenced to death or executed during the year.
In October an Amnesty International delegation visited Ghana to investigate issues of concern to the organization.
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