Lawson (Peace FM)

Ghana must probe state agents’ attack on photographer

New York, January 13, 2012—Authorities in Ghana should launch a thorough and transparent investigation into reports that state security agents on Thursday brutalized a photojournalist covering the high-profile court case of a senior police official, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

The private Daily Guide reported that several plainclothes agents of the Bureau of National Investigations pounced on Gifty Lawson outside a courtroom in the capital, Accra, after she attempted to take photographs of Deputy Superintendent of Police Gifty Mawuenyaga Tehoba. The police official–held by the bureau since December 29 on suspicion of cocaine smuggling but without formal charge–had appeared at a habeas corpus hearing ordered by Ghana’s human rights court, according to news reports.

The agents smashed Lawson’s camera, beat her, ripped her clothes, and stripped her to her underwear apparently in search of memory cards, Daily Guide Editor Fortune Alimi told CPJ. The agents also assaulted Daily Guide staffers Anthony Antwi and Michael Awampaga and briefly detained Lawson and Awampaga, according to news reports. The episode was witnessed by bystanders.

Lawson (Peace FM)
Lawson (Peace FM)

In an interview today with private station Joy FM, National Security Coordinator Larry Gbevlo-Lartey denied any journalist was attacked and accused Daily Guide journalists of obstructing the work of the bureau agents. “Someone who was accompanying a journalist had slapped a security official and we are handling that,” he was quoted as saying. “We are not going to take any indiscipline from any member of the public. It doesn’t matter who he is in preventing the BNI from doing their job.”

In an interview with CPJ today, Ghanaian Minister of Information John Akologo Tia said the government would probe the reported attack on Lawson. “Government is very much aware, and committed to press freedom and the promotion of the rule of law and democracy,” he said. 

“We are alarmed by the reported attack on Gifty Lawson and by the reaction of the national security coordinator toward it,” said Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “The authorities must conduct an immediate inquiry independent of the Bureau of National Investigations and bring those responsible to justice.”

Several local press freedom groups and media institutions also condemned the attack. “It should ignite the highest sense of outrage, the highest sense of revulsion, and the highest sense of action to ensure that justice is done in this case,” Affail Monney, the Ghana Journalists Association’s vice president told Joy FM. The National Media Commission called on the police to probe the matter, according to news reports. The Media Foundation of West Africa expressed concerns about “a concerted attempt by some security operatives to obstruct journalists from performing their duties, especially in the coverage of suspected drug criminals,” according to news reports.

Editor’s note: This alert was modified in paragraph three to correct the spelling of Daily Guide Editor Fortune Alimi.