Republic of Ghana

Head of state and government: J.J. Rawlings
Capital: Accra
Population: 18.8 million
Official language: English
Death penalty: retentionist
1999 treaty ratifications/signatures: Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court

Four people were sentenced to death for treason. In connection with the same case, a former armed forces officer was detained by West African peace-keeping forces in Sierra Leone and handed over to the Ghanaian authorities. A journalist was imprisoned after being convicted of libelling the head of state's wife. Other journalists, and an opposition member of parliament, were detained.


With the prospect of presidential elections in December 2000, there was increasing debate about the succession to President J.J. Rawlings, head of state and government since a coup in 1981. Since 1993 President Rawlings had headed elected civilian governments, and under the 1992 Constitution he was serving his last term in office.

The government's sensitivity to criticism in the privately owned news media was reflected in continued prosecutions and arrests of journalists for alleged defamation of government officials and associates.

Treason trials

Following a long-running treason trial, four men were sentenced to death in February by the High Court in Accra. Sylvester Addai-Dwomoh, Kwame Alexander Ofei, Kwame Ofori-Appiah and John Kwadwo Owusu-Boakye had been charged with plotting to overthrow the government in 1994. A fifth defendant, Emmanuel Kofi Osei, was acquitted. All five had been imprisoned since their arrest in September 1994.

Some of the defendants alleged that they had been beaten and ill-treated to coerce them into making incriminating statements. The special High Court trying the case ruled such statements admissible despite evidence, from prosecution witnesses as well as from some defendants, that soldiers who later testified for the state and defendants had been beaten following their arrest. The defendants lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court, which has appellate jurisdiction in treason cases.

In March James William Owu, a former army captain who had been named as a co-conspirator by the prosecution in the same treason trial, was charged before the High Court in Accra with treason. He had been detained in 1982, shortly after the 1981 coup, but had escaped in a mass jail break-out in 1983. In early 1999 he was detained in Sierra Leone by forces of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Cease-fire Monitoring Group, known as ECOMOG. In February he was flown by the Ghanaian armed forces to Ghana, where he was handed over to the authorities. No formal extradition proceedings took place.

The retrial on treason charges of Karim Salifu Adam, a member of the opposition New Patriotic Party, did not proceed. He had been sent for retrial in July 1997 because no judgment had been reached in his 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.

Imprisonment for defamation

Journalists were imprisoned and record fines were imposed on the privately owned news media in connection with defamation cases brought by government officials and their associates.

  • Ebenezer ("Eben") Quarcoo, former editor of the Free Press newspaper, was sentenced to 90 days in prison with hard labour by the Circuit Court in Accra, in November. He was also fined 1.5 million Cedis (US$600), or sentenced to two years' imprisonment if he failed to pay. He was released in December after the fine was paid. He was convicted of intentionally libelling Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, wife of President Rawlings, in an article published in December 1994. Another outstanding libel suit brought by President Rawlings' wife against Eben Quarcoo continued. His co-defendant in both cases , Free Press publisher Tommy Thompson, died in 1998.
  • In late October, two journalists from Joy FM radio, Samuel Atta Mensah and Mawuko Zormelo, and Yaw Amfo Kwakye, chief executive of the Statesman newspaper group, were arrested and detained overnight for questioning by the security police. In early November armed police surrounded the home of Ferdinand Ayim, a Statesman correspondent, and arrested him. The Statesman 's proprietor, opposition member of parliament and human rights lawyer Nana Akufo-Addo, was questioned by police, together with Samuel Okyere, a receptionist. All were provisionally charged with making or abetting false reports which bring the government into disrepute – an offence punishable by up to 10 years' imprisonment – and released on bail. The charges were in connection with the publication and broadcast of a tape recording in which a man alleged to be a presidential security guard admitted involvement in the 1985 murder of a Catholic priest and the 1992 bombing of a hotel belonging to the family of Nana Akufo-Addo.


There were investigations into some incidents in which protesters and others were killed by security officials.

  • In June the government ordered a police officer to be disciplined and compensation be paid to the families of two protesters killed by police in Kumasi in March 1997 after an inquiry found that riot control procedures had not been followed.
  • Local community leaders in Aflao, near the border with Togo, appealed for an independent investigation after Sylvanus Akortsu was shot dead in June by an officer of the police or customs service, and expressed concern about at least 10 other such killings since 1994 which had not been investigated. No information was made known about the outcome of an inquiry which police said in August 1999 had been established.

The son of Kwadwo Agyei Agyepong, a judge widely believed to have been extrajudicially executed with two other judges and a retired army officer in 1982 by government agents, repeatedly called for a "truth and reconciliation commission" to establish the truth about these and other alleged extrajudicial executions. In November President Rawlings acknowledged that injustices had occurred following coups in 1979 and 1981, but expressed the view that such a commission would reopen healed wounds.

Death penalty

The last known execution was in 1993. However, the death sentence remained mandatory for murder and treason, and at least five death sentences were passed by the courts.

  • In June the High Court in Kumasi sentenced to death Andrew Addai Ampratwum, a farmer, following his conviction for murder.

AI action

AI expressed concern in November at the imprisonment of journalists in connection with libel laws used to protect government officials and their associates.

In May AI launched a report in Ghana about the discriminatory use of the death penalty in the United States of America – Killing with Prejudice: Race and the Death Penalty in the USA – on the eve of a meeting of African and US business leaders in Accra.

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