Alistair Nelson [Left], Salifu Masse [Middle] and Godwin Ako Gunn [Right]
Radio presenter Salifu Maase, aka, ‘Mugabe’ and two radio panellists: Alistair Nelson and Godwin Ako Gunn, who have all been jailed by the Supreme Court for four months for contempt, have, through their lawyers, sent a petition to President John Mahama to exercise his prerogative of mercy on them.
A statement issued by Nana Ato Dadzie and George Loh, lawyers for the three, said the sentence was “harsh and excessive”, adding: “We also do not believe that citizens of Ghana ought to be committed to prison for infractions on free expression especially in light of the repeal of the criminal libel law. Our clients have directed us in the circumstances to petition His Excellency the President of the Republic to exercise his powers of prerogative of mercy under Article 72 of the Constitution of Ghana”.
Already, supporters of the governing National Democratic Congress (NDC) intend marching to the party’s headquarters in Accra in protest to the four months’ jail term.
The supporters say they want the leadership of the party to file for a review of the sentence. They also say President John Mahama must speak on the matter. They will be converging on the Obra Spot at Kwame Nkrumah Circle and march to the party’s Adabraka headquarters. “Let’s call on our leaders to rise up for justice and protect our media men and communicators. Let’s march till meaning is given to the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law… Mugabe and Co must be set free, the President must speak now,” a circular from the supporters said.
Apart from the jail sentence, each of the three contemnors has been fined a sum of GHS10,000. The owners of the station including Mr Harry Zakkour, who is also the second vice chairman of the governing National Democratic Congress, as well as Mr Edward Addo, Ato Ahwoi, and Kwesi Kyei Atuah, have been fined GHS30,000 each. They are to pay the fine by the end of Thursday July 28 or risk jail term. The owners have also been asked by the Supreme Court to submit policy documents spelling out how to forestall similar happenings in the future. They have also been asked to ensure that none of their media outlets will be used to scandalise the court or bring it into disrepute.
The NDC, in a statement, described the sentence as “shocking and harsh” as captured below:
THE NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC CONGRESS CONDEMNS JAILING OF A JOURNALIST AND TWO PANELISTS BY THE SUPREME COURT OF GHANA
The National Democratic Congress (NDC) has learned with utter shock, disbelief and dismay, the jailing of a journalist and two Ghanaian citizens by the Supreme Court of Ghana after contempt proceedings.
While respecting the verdict of the court and reiterating our condemnation of the utterances and comments made by the three, the party is extremely disappointed and saddened by the severity and harshness of the punishments imposed on them.
Our utter disappointment not only stems from the fact that the accused persons themselves, demonstrated considerable remorse but also there has been an overwhelming outpouring of both condemnation of their conduct and pleas for the court to be lenient in its judgment and avoid custodial sentence.
The party is particularly concerned about the devastating impact that this judgment will have on the ability of citizens of Ghana in whom sovereignty resides, to express themselves freely as enshrined in the constitution.
We are unable to reconcile our claim of a free democratic state in which the rights of citizens are paramount with such excessive censure of the right to free expression. This judgment sends an unfortunate impression about Ghana, its judiciary and severely dents our enviable reputation as a beacon of democracy on the African continent and beyond.
The judgement also may undermine our position among countries with the freest media in the world.
We are completely astonished that the Supreme Court of Ghana which should be at the forefront of efforts to guarantee the liberties and freedoms of all Ghanaians appears to have taken the lead in limiting same.
We find it strange that Frequency Owners and Directors of a media house can be held liable for the views of panellists. This is akin to holding the members of the court responsible for the conduct of their wards, guests and employees.
To commit citizens of Ghana to jail on account of what they have said at a time when democratic societies are moving away from such a practice would appear to roll back all the gains made since the repeal of the criminal libel law.
In many countries the laws on contempt are being reviewed to check the sweeping powers that it gives the court to investigate, prosecute and sentence contemnors in their own cases. In addition the law on contempt as applied in this case presumed the accused guilty and imposed on them the burden of proof of innocence contrary to the principles of fair trial.
The NDC considers it a paradox that the same Supreme Court that has placed an injunction on the constitutionally mandated body- the National Media Commission (NMC) from exercising its mandate of regulating media standards and content (Content Standards Regulation 2015) appears to be the same body usurping the powers of the Commission by giving directives on policy, content and programmes.
Also we believe that the time has come for the powers of the Supreme Court and all arms of government to be put in proper context and where it is found that it enables the semblance of arbitrariness, steps taken to protect the citizenry.
The National Democratic Congress strongly associates itself with all well-meaning Ghanaians who have condemned the judgment of the court.
We call on the millions of supporters of the National Democratic Congress to exercise restraint and refrain from any conduct that will undermine the peace of the country. The party also calls on all to draw lessons from this unfortunate event.
Dr. Kofi Portuphy
However, the angry party supporters say the party must do something beyond issuing statements.