Continued Police Presence – An Affront to Freedom Of Expression

Feature Article Continued Police Presence – An Affront to Freedom Of Expression

The election petition at the Supreme Court has ended with John Mahama still in the saddle of the country's affairs as president. Nana Akufo Addo has congratulated him and decided against initiating any review process. Everybody says Ghana has won but left in its wake is a dangerous feature which must immediately be tackled.

Throughout the hearing we sat down for the Ghana Police to hijack our right to peaceful demonstrationin the name of a so-called peace industry where those who pushed for justice were ridiculed. Now that we have put the verdict behind us another way is being devised to entrench the unofficial banning of demonstrations and any form of protests. Unchecked, an agenda is gradually being set for undermining freedom of expression in this country.

After the Supreme Court verdict on the election petition, many ridiculous statements have been made ostensibly heaping praises on the security forces. I am not surprised because before the D-Day, some organisations lauded the Police Service 'for instilling confidence in the citizenry with their responsive service without fear or favour.' But the most ridiculous one came from Mr. Emmanuel Sowatey, a security expert. Commending the police and the media on Joy FM Super Morning Show his assessment was "So far so good" but suggested the setting up of a security management team that involves the media. He then went ahead to charge the Police to watch out for how people are jubilating, how they are mobilising and which people are mobilising them.

Dropping a bombshell, he continued "if we don't have any significant development, they [Police] can be visible for 60 days after [the ruling]." This is outrageous!!!

Long before and during the hearing mismanagement of the economy had become manifest. Majority of our people who are reeling under the incompetence of the current government were openly expressing their dissatisfaction through workers unrest and planned demonstrations. But the police sought and were given a court order to stop planned demonstrations by AFAG, NUGS, LMVCA and other groups. An unhappy trend of deliberately eroding freedom of expression has been the increasing show of force by the security forces in an attempt to cow the civilian population. No matter the explanation they adduce the fact still remains that this is untenable.

What scientific findings support his 60 days moratorium on freedom of expression. Is he saying that within this period nobody should hit the streets and wake up this government that has been in a state of torpor regarding its responsibilities to the people? If Mr. Sowatey and his colleagues are enthused about our security forces intimidating visibility before the August 29th Supreme Court judgment then we have a huge problem. The government ignored peoples' reservations about the heavy presence of the security forces and even enjoyed the military helicopters flying very low on that Thursday. Who were they massing up and getting ready to fight? Have opponents suddenly become enemies who must be crushed? There are more questions than answers.

For five consecutive years the strategy by government is setting an agenda by using certain individuals to throw things out there. When it goes well they throw more. But when it hits the wall, they quickly recoil and go back to the drawing board. Classic examples are alleged 50-50 verdict and the so-called all inclusive government arrangement spearheaded by their National Chairman Dr. Kwabena Adjei and supported by Fiifi Kwetey a minister of state at the presidency. Immediately they realised that majority of Ghanaians did not buy into it they changed direction.

If Ghanaians swallow Mr. Sowatey's 60 days proposal, another security or peace expert will also propose that we should allow the security forces be remain up to the end of the year. I tell you these experts would be supported by the Peace Council, prominent religious leaders, some chiefs and even some media organizations.

The encouraging indication after the September 29 judgment is that things have returned to normal. This can be seen from the news items carried by both the electronic and the print media. If we believe these reports then why are some people creating an erroneous impression of an impending disaster which ought to be nib in the bud? What are they seeing that all of us are not privy to?

The great gift of liberty of the press and speech places heavy burdens of responsibility on newspapers, radio, and all agencies of communication in this country. But it must also be pointed out that the benefits of this gift accrue less to the agencies of communication themselves than to the people. It is on behalf of the people that the battles for liberty must always be fought, and it is the people who should be chiefly concerned about any infringements on liberty. Ghanaians cannot leave the struggles against creeping invasions of those rights to the newspapers and radio stations, which have indeed both financial and moral interests in such contests. We must take part to preserve our freedoms.

Again, we must remember that liberty is something for which we have to struggle constantly, day in day out, if we want to preserve it. It is continually under threat, and must continually be defended.

And that is why Executive Director of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) Professor Kwame Karikari says the need for responsible reporting and fear of contempt of court should not foster a self-imposed culture of silence in the country.

He said a culture of silence will not be in the interest of the country's young democracy. He made this comment at a round table discussion organised by the Editors Forum, the Media Foundation for West Africa in collaboration with the US Embassy.

His comments come in the wake a crusade for peace and a call for responsible journalism.

Professor Karikari completely agreed that journalists must uphold high journalistic standards and responsibility but expressed his fears that the ongoing crusade may censor and gag peoples, resulting in undermining the fundamental right to free speech.

Now if the experts are unaware President Mahama and all Article 71 appointees have still refused to declare their assets. The famous Woyome case, non retrieval of the money which Vigilante Martin Amidu won a case for the State. Ebo Barton Oduro is Deputy Speaker of Parliament and chairs the House's Appointments Committee. Nii Lante Vanderpuye despite a Supreme Court ruling stubbornly occupies the house he has been ordered to vacate. The MPs Common Fund, Funds for the Capitation Grant, the School Feeding Programme, National Health Insurance, Scholarship Secretariat etc. are all in arrears. Corruption has reached its highest level in the history of the country. Added to these are the skyrocketing prices of goods on our markets, the filth which is swallowing the capital city of Accra as well as the controversial GYEEDA Report. The Ghana Police Service pick and choose who are more Ghanaians and should therefore not to be prosecuted. These are the realities facing us as a nation.

I do not see how the Police could prevent aggrieved and disillusioned Ghanaians from embarking on demonstrations because of a fragile peace industry that is seemingly booming.

Human security means the security of peopletheir physical safety, their economic and social well-being, respect for their dignity and worth as human beings and the protection of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

If we confine ourselves to the traditional narrow perception of security, we would be leaving out the most elementary and legitimate concerns of the ordinary people regarding security in their daily lives. We would also be failing abysmally to protect millions of our people from chronic insecurities of hunger, disease, inadequate shelter, crime, unemployment, social conflict and environmental hazard.