Sulemana Braimah: Criminalising speech erodes democratic gains

At least three individuals are currently being tried in court over statements they made in the media that the police say amount to false publications

Sulemana Braimah, the executive director of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) has said he is against moves to criminalise speech, saying it will erode the country’s democratic achievements.

At least three individuals including the executive director of ASEPA Mensah Thompson and governing New Patriotic Party (NPP) Bono regional chairman Kwame Baffoe (popularly known as Abronye DC), are currently being tried in court over statements they made in the media that the police say amount to false publications.

“Any piece of legislation that criminalises speech is dangerous for democracy and I believe we’re a country of people with different cultures, but I don’t think there’s any culture that endorses insult against an elder,” Braimah told Asaase News.

“In terms of the persons who have been arrested recently, I can’t recall any individual or journalist arrested in Ghana specifically for insulting the president.

“I think that good regulation is good and I’m not one of those who’ll say we don’t need a regulation. If we say no regulation, then we’re just endorsing chaos,” he said.

Braimah has therefore called on the government to resource the National Media Commission (NMC) to effectively play its role in sanitising the media landscape.

Oliver charged with treason felony

The state has charged the social media activist and convenor of the #FixTheCountry pressure group, Oliver Mawuse Barker-Vormawor, with treason felony under Section 182 (b) of the Criminal and Other Offences Act 1960 (Act 29).

The particulars of the offence on the charge sheet filed at the Ashaiman district court state that Barker-Vormawor, some time in February 2022, prepared to undertake, by any unlawful means, an enterprise that would usurp the executive powers of the Government of Ghana.

Oliver Barker-Vormawor | Photo: Edem Robby Abbeyquaye
Oliver Barker-Vormawor | Photo: Edem Robby Abbeyquaye

The #FixTheCountry convenor was arrested by the Tema Regional Police on Saturday 12 February 2022 for allegedly saying that he would stage a coup in Ghana if Parliament passes the E-Levy Bill.

A police statement issued on on 12 February said that Barker-Vormawor was being detained at the Tema Regional Police Command, pending further investigations into his social media post.

Bobie Ansah arrest

A presenter with Accra FM, Kwabena Bobie Ansah, has also been arrested for publishing false news, police have said.

A statement issued by the police on 11 February said his arrest became necessary after Bobie Ansah turned down many invitations from the police to assist with the investigation.

Mahama’s rant

The former president John Mahama, in an open letter to President Nana Akufo-Addo, has condemned what he described as the “growing criminalisation of speech and journalism in Ghana”.

Mahama’s comment came a day after the arrest of Kwabena Bobie Ansah, a presenter with Accra FM – a radio station affiliated with the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC).

John Mahama
John Mahama

Mahama’s open letter, which was posted on Facebook, said: “This is a dangerous blueprint you are fashioning for our dear nation and it must not be encouraged.

“Your actions as president have totally discredited your self-acquired accolade as a human rights lawyer and activist.

“Ghana has long emerged from the unfortunate past where journalists were cowed by incarceration and brutalisation.

“I fear that if you do not take immediate action to arrest this unfortunate trend, when you exit the high office of president in January 2025, freedom of speech and free media will certainly not be counted as part of the legacy you leave behind.”

Fred Dzakpata

Asaase Radio 99.5 – tune in or log on to broadcasts online
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