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Feb
23

the ghana police and free speech

THE GHANA POLICE AND FREE SPEECH by CAMERON DUODU


On 18 February 2010, Nana Darkwa, a 27-year-old sympathiser of the opposition party in Ghana, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) was arrested by the police at a radio station, for alleging, in a radio discussion programme, that the former President of Ghana, Flight-Lieutenant (retd.) J J Rawlings, “burnt down his own house” in a fire that occurred in the ex-president’s house in the early hours of Sunday 14 February 2010. Darkwa was taken before a court presided over by a Judge Wilson and placed in custody for two weeks. Later, a higher court released him on bail, following an intervention by the Chief Justice, Mrs Georgina Woode. The fire and the subsequent arrest were the subject of much debate in the country. The Minority walked out of Parliament. Radio discussion panellists poured insults on the police for being the instruments of oppression of people in power. These exchanges did not escape the attention of CAMERON DUODU and his fellow members of the Internet Forum, Okyeame. Here is an extract of their exchanges:

On Mon, 22/2/10, M wrote:
I’ve tried to stay out of this matter because this is exactly the problem with us Ghanaians. We put aside everything that is important and latch on to something that someone is supposed to have said, then all hell breaks loose.
It was wrong for Nana Darkwa to have said what he did.

It was wrong for Kofi Adams [an associate of Rawlings who works for the ruling NDC Party] to lodge a complaint with the police, instead of going to the NMC [National Media Commission] or the courts;

It was wrong for the police to go ahead and effect arrest;

It was wrong for the judge to remand him [Darkwa];

It was wrong for the NPP to only see the wrong in Kofi Adam’s action, and continue to heap praises on Nana Darkwa for his “free speech”;

It is wrong, nay dangerous, for the NPP to continue to live the delusion that scare stories about Rawlings will win them political capital;

It was completely stupid of the minority in parliament to walk out on this matter; never mind that it had no direct bearing on the work in parliament, nor that the NDC, the presidency, and the CJA (sic) had all come out to express their reservations about the arrest;

It is wrong that intelligent people like those on this forum are wasting energy on this issue

and the circus goes on and on…

m

CAMERON DUODU REPLIED:

M, You wrote:
“It is wrong that intelligent people like those on this forum are wasting energy on this issue”.

But I am afraid you have trivialised the issue.

It is important to thrash out whether a breach of the constitutional right to free speech has occurred with the arrest of the fool (I don’t think anyone doubts that he is a fool. He probably has read some ‘small’ history and thought it was smart to show it off by drawing an analogy with the “Reichstag Fire” through which, it is generally agreed, Hitler came to power in Germany.) But a fool can be told he is a fool in no uncertain terms (and I am sure the switchboard of the radio station was jammed by people anxious to let him know that in no time at all!)

If you say “It doesn’t matter because they only arrested a fool, the next time they will arrest a slightly less foolish man, and then, a ‘not-so-wise-man’, and so on, until even the wisest man — such as M (!) — can be arrested by super-fools who can arrest him because they can, being thugs.

There is a famous ditty or

“popular poem attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) about the inactivity of German intellectuals, following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group. In Niemöller’s first utterance of it, in a January 6, 1946 speech before representatives of the Confessing Church in Frankfurt, it went (in German):[1]


First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;


Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me. “(Source: Wikipedia)

M, for these reasons, the Minority in Parliament, although over-reacting, chose a very dramatic way of expressing their disapproval. As a result, we have all had this ongoing examination of the relationship between the police and existing govts. (The irony won’t be lost on anyone intelligent that the NPP can’t come out of this debate with clean hands, having sent troops into the house of its own former National Security Adviser, Mr Francis Poku, and forced him to flee into exile.)

Then comes the question of the way Judge Wilson behaved, He put a man in custody for 2 weeks over an offence whose penalty — as I understand t — is a mere fine. This brought echoes of the imprisonment of Harruna Atta, editor of the Accra Mail and others over the criminal libel action brought by Mrs Rawlings. Here again, the NPP can’t plead clean hands — because of the weird process by which Mr Tsatsu Tsikata, former Chief Executive of the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation, was jailed. But the upshot of the current debate has been that THE CHIEF JUSTICE has intervened; a new judge released the chap within 24 hours and everyone is now charged with the issue of whether our Judiciary is as independent as the Constitution wants it to be.

Will Judge Wilson be disciplined by the Judicial Council? Will there even be an enquiry behind closed doors by the senior members of the judiciary? If not, why not? Are they satisfied that the public perception of judicial independence, impartiality and fairness is as it should be? Will the opportunity be taken to change the open-ended system of Supreme Court appointments? Will a constitutional amendment be sought to plug this obvious anomaly that allows for political interference with appointment to the highest court of the land? if so, by which side? For here again, there are so many ironies.

So, you see, M, out of the foolishness of one fool, a lot of foolishnesses in our national life are coming to light. Of course, we shall — as always — foolishly ignore solving any of the problems laid bare by the current controversy … until another fool rises again to become an instant hero to fools. That is how a foolish country runs its affairs, wouldn’t you say?



A member of the Forum, C, wrote in reply to CAMERON DUODU:
“A timely reminder, wise brother! Within the hilarious stuff (and I have deliberately avoided entering the fray) there are serious issues for both sides that transcend the partisanship. Opanyin, thank you so much.
Meanwhile, the debate continues on Okyeame@Googlegroups.com

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