Pressure is mounting on the President, John Dramani Mahama, to invoke his prerogative power of mercy for the radio broadcaster and two of his panelists, whom the Supreme Court on Wednesday, found guilty of contempt charges.
The three are currently in jail for attacking the Chief Justice (CJ), Georgina Wood and Justice Sulemana Gbadegbe, over their comments that the Electoral Commission (EC), could plunge the country into chaos leading to a “bloodbath” with respect to its non-compliance with the New Patriotic Party’s (NPP) attempt to remove those who entered the electoral register with NHIS cards.
Lawyers for the host of Montie FM’s ‘Pampaso’ political show, Salifu Maase, alias Mugabe, and two panelists, Alistair Nelson, and Godwin Ako Gunn, who were handed a four-month prison sentence, say they will petition President Mahama to invoke his prerogative power of mercy for the three, whose sentencing they described as harsh.
Already, apart from petitions at the premises of Radio Gold at Laterbiokoshie and Freedom Centre at Kokomlemle all in Accra, by Research and Advocacy Platforms (RAP) eliciting signatures of Ghanaians against the judgment, the governing National Democratic Congress (NDC), Foreign Affairs Minister, Hanna Tetteh, Dr. Kobina Arthur Kennedy of NPP, America-based Prof Stephen Kweku Asare, have separately spoken against the judgment.
Both Radio Gold and Montie FM, have also suspended their daily broadcast in solidarity for the convicted men and the owners of the station; Network Broadcasting Limited and Zeze Medi; owners of the frequency on which Montie FM is broadcast. They were ordered to pay Gh¢30, 000 each. NDC supporters, have through public protests demanded their immediate release,
Those who have supported the Supreme Court decision so far include, Former President of the Ghana Bar Association (GBA), Sam Okudjeto, President of the Institute of Financial and Economic Journalists (IFEJ), Lloyd Evans, private legal practitioner, John Ndebugri, Veteran Journalist cum broadcaster, Rayborn Bulley, and the Member of Parliament (MP) for Abuakwa South, Samuel Atta Akyea.
But the lawyers for the three, George Loh, and Nana Ato Dadzie, in a statement, said although they admit comments made by their clients were “unacceptable”, they consider the sentence harsh and excessive.
“We do admit some of the statements uttered by some of our clients are unacceptable. We nevertheless consider custodial sentence of four months imposed by the Supreme Court as being excessive and harsh.”
“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 circumstances to petition His Excellency the President of the Republic to exercise his powers of perogative of mercy under Article 72 of the Constitution of Ghana.”
The sentence has been met with mixed reactions from various stakeholders. While some believe it was a step in the right direction, others say the Judges were too harsh on the trio, and may be seeking to stifle freedom of speech.
The NDC, in a statement issued on Wednesday evening, and signed by the party’s Chairman, Kofi Portuphy, said it “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.
The statement released said the 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.” It further stated that the “judgement also may undermine our position among countries with the freest media in the world.”
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hanna Tetteh, described the sentence as harsh. To her, the judges could have “tempered justice with mercy” given the remorse of the convicted trio.
In a post on Facebook, the Foreign Affairs Minister, noted that, her response to the verdict was not an endorsement of the threats of the Montie FM panelists, but she stated that there have been “previous situations where our esteemed Judges, had been attacked and had not responded in the same way.”
The Presiding judge, Sophia Akuffo, reading the sentences said, the two panelists wilfully attacked the Chief Justice and lowered the authority of the court by insisting that they will not accept its judgment on a controversial matter of the voter’s register.
She also said, they also callously reminded the court of the gruesome murder of three High Court judges, more than 30 years ago.
She pointed out that there was an element of criminality in their utterances, which the Attorney-General, should have noticed and acted upon.
Justice Akuffo, asserted that the court deserves utmost respect if the country’s democracy is to be safeguarded, and that any conduct that seeks to interfere with the judiciary, is an act against the community.
According to the Judge, for a very long time, the judiciary has been attacked verbally and viciously, but they remained quiet. She explained that it was not their intent to be punishing people anyhow, but they just want to use this as a caution.
The justices, also said the owners were careless in their submissions to the court, as they appeared to have little or no interest in what transpired on their radio station.
The owners of the station were subsequently fined GH¢30,000, to be paid as at yesterday, July 28.
Justice Akuffo, expressed the hope that, every media owner will henceforth take keen interest in what is churned out on their frequencies.
Meanwhile, the President of the Institute of Financial and Economic Journalists (IFEJ), Lloyd Evans, ahead of the sentencing said the jailing of the three would serve as a deterrent to like minded radio presenters and social commentators.
Lloyd Evans told Citi News that, the Montie Fm contemnors, don’t deserve mercy. He said freeing them would open the flood gates for media volatility in the country.
According to the IFEJ President, Mugabe and his surrogates, should be jailed to serve as a deterrent to other social commentators and radio presenters.
This action, he is convinced could sanitize the media landscape, ahead of the forthcoming 2016 polls.
He cautioned media practitioners against misconstruing press freedom to mean media irresponsibility. He also reminded media practitioners of their duty to galvanize people for constructive purposes.
Lloyd Evans, made reference to the Rwandan Genocide caused by a reckless radio presenter there and concluded that such a practice should not be entertained in Ghana.
Veteran Journalist cum broadcaster, Rayborn Bulley, charged media owners to refrain from cheap labour and recruit professionals. He advised businessmen with the intention to establish radio or television stations to adequately prepare for the task ahead. He emphasized the need for media owners to regularly pay their employees.
A private legal practitioner, John Ndebugri, also said that the 4-month jail terms given to the two panelists, and the host of the ‘Pampaso’ show, were appropriate for the offences they were convicted of.
The former PNC legislator’s comments, is in response to suggestions that the sentences were harsh and could stifle freedom of speech. But to Ndebugri, the judges have sent out a strong message to anyone, who comments on the activities of the judiciary to exercise some level of restraint when doing so.
“I think that the sentences are appropriate…A message has to be sent very clearly to media practitioners, social commentators and lawyers like myself who don’t want to understand the meaning of the judicial process so that red lines are drawn and once you cross them, you come within the firing line and you’ll be fired,” Ndebugri said on the Citi Breakfast Show.
“They have been properly dealt with and I think we should let them serve the four months, pay the fine and come out so that we all learn lessons.”
However, John Ndebugri, dismissed these suggestions, stating that each case was different and that Sir John, unlike the convicted Montie FM panelists, had not threatened to kill any judge.
“Matters are determined on a case by case basis. Sir John’s matter was totally different. He called a judge names. He didn’t say he would kill him. These people [jailed Montie FM men] went to the extreme. There’s no question of equalization,” he said.
He stated that the matter must be addressed devoid of political sentiments, as it involved the security of the members of one of the country’s most important institutions.
“I don’t talk from a standpoint of partisanship because some of us are now beyond that. We are very concerned about the stability of this nation, so that when we die, we’ll be seen properly. The business of equalisation has no business here. These chaps sat on a radio station and spewed out these words against a very important institution.”
Meanwhile, a Former President of the Ghana Bar Association (GBA), Sam Okudjeto, has opined that the trio, should have been handed a minimum of six months prison sentence.
He argued that the four-month prison sentence is not enough to serve as a deterrent to others.
“If I were there, I would have given them more than that, because I am so worried about what I call irresponsibility that has almost crept into political arena whereby people use the television and radio as a platform for vulgar abuse, threats. That is not what the media is meant for and I think that a lot of characters that are appearing on television, should not be allowed. The station itself should have been punished heavier for them to put down rules, the rules which says that when you come here no abuse, no insult.”
“I would have preferred to have given them at least six months and then ban them for a year or two to be of good behavior.”
Lawyer Sam Okudjeto, also said it was immaterial that the three had apologized, saying the apology could not have undone the harm their utterances would have caused.