Press freedom activist and editor arrested in Ghana

Wednesday, January 19, 2000

His Excellency J.J. Rawlings
President, Republic of Ghana
Office of the Head of State
The Castle
P.O. Box 1627
Accra, Greater Accra, Ghana
Fax: + 233 21 664 089

January 19, 2000

Your Excellency,

I am writing on behalf of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) to raise concerns over the recent arrests of journalists in Ghana. CJFE is an independent organization which promotes freedom of speech worldwide according to the precepts of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Journalist and press freedom advocate Kabral Blay Amihere is a colleague of ours and is highly respected worldwide for his integrity and dedication to free expression. He has worked for many years with us and we understand that on January 17, Mr. Amihere, who is the president of the West African Journalists Association and the Editor of "The Independent" newspaper, was arrested by armed military personal and imprisoned at a military camp in Accra. We were informed that Mr. Amihere was arrested by the army because of an article he published in "The Independent". After spending the night in prison, he was asked to publish a rejoinder written by the army.

CJFE is aware that the arrest of Mr. Amihere is not an isolated incident in Ghana. In fact, last November, prominent journalist Eben Quarcoo, former editor of the "Free Press", was also arrested, tried, and sentenced to 90 days in jail, with bail set at 1.5 million cedis, all for questioning the conduct of the Ghanian First Lady's conduct while representing her country. Further, we understand that five journalists from "The Standard" newspaper, along with Joy FM journalists, were also arrested in October after a story about an incriminating videotape linking your government to corruption was released.

A disturbing trend is being established that deeply concerns us as an international organization concerned with freedom of expression. Furthermore, Ghana is among those countries with criminal libel statutes, whereby libel can be punished by imprisonment under the Criminal Code. We believe that while legitimate cases of libel should be addressed, under no circumstances should a journalist face imprisonment for libel or for expressing an opinion, a right guaranteed internationally under Article 19.

We urge you to overturn the criminal conviction of journalists for expressing themselves and advise you to seek internationally-accepted standards of pursuing cases of libel, if indeed such cases constitute libel according to the legal definition. These incidents of censorship and imprisonment in Ghana are disturbing as they show a clear pattern of disregard for freedom of the press and the basic rights of journalists. CJFE will be closely monitoring the situation in Ghana with the hope that the continued abuse of journalists will soon stop.

Yours Sincerely,

Sharmini Peries
CJFE Executive Director

cc. High Commission for the Republic of Ghana 1 Clemow Avenue Ottawa, ON Canada K1S 2A9

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