October 12, 2000
President Jerry Rawlings
PO Box 1627, Accra
Republic of Ghana
VIA FAX: (233) 21 664 089
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is appalled at the October 2 attack on the Accra offices of The Crusading Guide, a private bi-weekly newspaper which has taken a critical stand toward your government.
Kweku Baako, the editor of The Crusading Guide, arrived at the newspaper’s office on October 2 to find the floors, windows, and verandah of the office smeared with human excrement. While the police are investigating the act, the perpetrators have yet to be identified.
This is the third time in recent years that the editorial offices of an independent newspaper have been smeared with human excreta. The thrice-weekly Ghanaian Chronicle and the bi-weekly Free Press were similarly vandalized in 1994 and 1996, respectively. Like The Crusading Guide, both newspapers published articles critical of the government.
This incident is particularly troubling because it took place less than two weeks after the September 19 arrest of The Crusading Guide‘s news editor Sedi Bansah by Deputy Minister of Defense, Dr. Tony Aidoo.
The arrest was prompted by a phone call Bansah placed to Aidoo on September 29. Bansah was seeking comment on allegations that Aidoo had gotten into an altercation with a security guard at a gas station. According to The Ghanaian Chronicle, Bansah was able to contact the security guard to confirm the story. Bansah later said that he also spoke to witnesses to the incident who corroborated the security guard’s version of events.
When Bansah called Aidoo to get his side of the story, the deputy minister insisted on coming to The Crusading Guide office. He arrived with four military officers. CPJ’s sources in Ghana say Bansah was taken into custody and then transported to police headquarters where he was asked to identify the security guard who had made the allegations against the deputy minister.
Bansah was held for eight hours before being released; he was asked to return to police headquarters the following day. According to CPJ’s sources in Ghana, the deputy minister dropped the case after several press freedom organizations protested the journalist’s detention.
As a nonpartisan organization dedicated to defending the rights of journalists worldwide, CPJ is deeply troubled by Aidoo’s behavior. The right of journalists to protect the confidentiality of their sources is essential to their work. Moreover, in soliciting Aidoo’s comments on the allegations made against him, before publishing a story about the incident, Bansah was acting in accordance with the ethical requirements of his profession. We believe that the deputy minister overstepped the bounds of the law, and abused the power of his office by arbitrarily arresting this journalist.
While we are pleased that Your Excellency has publicly condemned the vandalism of The Crusading Guide’s office, we feel that the impressive progress Ghana has made toward the establishment of a vital independent press and the free exchange of ideas could be undermined if newspapers that criticize your government continue to be harassed.
We believe that deputy minister Aidoo flagrantly abused the power of his office and should be investigated by the legal authorities. Freedom of the press is enshrined in Ghana’s constitution but only exists in practice when those who disagree with critical press coverage express their concerns in the public forum rather than responding with brute force.
We respectfully await your comments on this matter.
Ann K. Cooper