New York, July 9, 2019 -- Ghana's Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice should immediately launch an independent investigation into the arrests of Modern Ghana editor Emmanuel Ajarfor Abugri and reporter Emmanuel Yeboah Britwum and security forces' alleged torture of Abugri, and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On June 27, in Accra, the capital, Ministry of National Security officers arrested Abugri and Britwum at the offices of their employer, the privately owned news website Modern Ghana, interrogated them at Ministry of National Security offices, and confiscated their laptops and phones, according to Britwum, who spoke to CPJ over the phone, and local news reports. The officers questioned the journalists about Modern Ghana's recent reporting on National Security Minister Albert Kan Dapaah and accused them of obtaining information about Kan Dapaah by hacking an email account, Britwum said. Britwum told CPJ that the officers did not present a warrant at the time of their arrest.
Abugri told Ghanaian broadcaster Joy News and local news website Citi Newsroom that officers tied his hands, slapped him, and shocked him with a taser during his interrogation. The officers also made the journalists log in to their phones and computers and reviewed their files, Britwum told CPJ.
Britwum was released on June 28 and Abugri was released on June 29, Britwum said. He told CPJ that officers returned their phones but that their laptops remain in custody.
"The arrests of Emmanuel Abugri and Emmanuel Britwum, and Abugri's alleged torture at the hands of Ministry of National Security officers, is only the latest security service attack on journalists in Ghana," said Angela Quintal, CPJ's Africa program coordinator. "This dangerous pattern is made worse by the repeated failure to hold those responsible for attacks against the press to account. The Ghanaian Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice should take this case seriously and pursue justice for Britwum and Abugri."
Ghana's Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice is a presidentially appointed body tasked with investigating human rights violations and abuses of power, according to its founding charter.
The journalists' arrest came one day after Modern Ghana complied with a June 26 request from the Ministry of National Security to take down an article critical of Kan Dapaah published on the website on June 25, Britwum told CPJ.
On July 1, Ghanaian police summoned Abugri and Britwum to a local police station to give statements about the events surrounding their arrests, and the journalists were summoned again on July 2 and 3 for further questioning at the Police Criminal Investigations Department headquarters, according to Samson Lardi Anyenini, Ajafor's lawyer, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Also on July 1, Ghana's National Security Council Secretariat released a statement, which CPJ reviewed, stating that Abugri's allegations of torture were "false," that he was "never manhandled" during the interrogation, and saying that the journalists had been arrested for "engaging in cyber-crimes."
During his interrogation, Britwum told officers that he obtained information about Kan Dapaah from documents sent to an email address registered to local private radio broadcaster Peace FM, to which he had been granted access, Britwum told CPJ. Officers accused him of hacking the account, Britwum said.
On July 5, state prosecutors filed cybercrime charges against Britwum, Abugri, and Peace FM editor Yaw Obeng Manu for the alleged unlawful access of an email account, according to Anyenini.
Later that day, however, Senior State Attorney Stella Ohene Appiah and Accra High Court Justice Afia Asare Botwe dropped the charges against the journalists, according to Anyenini and a report by Joy News.
According to reports by local news website Ghana Web, the Ghana Journalists Association, an independent professional association, and the OneGhana Movement, a local civil society group focused on promoting official accountability, have both called for an independent investigation into Abugri's alleged torture.
On July 8, Ghana police spokesperson David Eklu told CPJ over the phone that he was not aware of the specific details concerning Britwum and Abugri's arrests and questioning by Ministry of National Security officers, and said that the cybercrime investigation was transferred to the country's police.
CPJ's repeated calls to Kan Dapaah went unanswered. Eklu told CPJ that he was aware of the calls for an independent inquiry into the allegations of abuse by Ministry of National Security officers, but said he did not have any information on such an inquiry's likelihood.
Kan Dapaah was named as the head of Ghana's newly created National Security Ministry by President Nana Akufo-Addo in early 2017 with a mandate to increase security services' public accountability, according to media reports from the time. Nevertheless, investigations into attacks against journalists have lagged in recent years, according to CPJ research.
[Editor's Note: This article has been corrected to include Emmanuel Yeboah Britwum and Emmanuel Ajarfor Abugri's full names]