Abuja, Nigeria, March 11, 2020 -- Ghanaian authorities should lift the suspension on broadcaster Radio Tongu and drop the police investigation against journalist Bestway Zottor, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On January 15, a group of about 20 police officers arrested Zottor, director of the privately owned broadcaster Radio Tongu who also works as a reporter for the station, at his residence in South Tongu, in southwestern Ghana’s Volta region, according to news reports and Zottor, who spoke with CPJ via phone and messaging app.
Authorities held Zottor at a police station in Ho, the regional capital, until January 17, when they released him after posting bail of 50,000 Ghanaian cedi ($9,357), the journalist told CPJ. During his detention, Zottor said he was briefly shown a copy of the allegations against him, which accused him of using Radio Tongu to promote the agenda of separatist groups in the region.
Zottor is required to return to the police station every two weeks since his release, he told CPJ, adding that while police say he is still under investigation, he has not been formally charged with any crime.
On February 11, the National Communications Authority, the country’s media regulator, suspended Radio Tongu’s broadcasting license on the grounds of “national security and the public interest,” according to a press release from the regulator, which CPJ reviewed, a report by private online news platform Daily Guide Network, and Zottor, who confirmed on March 9 that the station remained off the air.
Radio Tongu broadcasts news and current affairs programs, as well as a weekly program about the Western Togoland independence movement, but does not promote the agenda of any of the separatist groups in the region, Zottor told CPJ.
“Ghana’s police should be working to ensure that journalists can do their jobs safely, not detaining them on vague accusations and shuttering their outlets,” Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, said from New York. “Radio Tongu should be allowed back on the air, and Bestway Zottor should be permitted to continue his work keeping the public informed.”
Zottor said the police officers made specific reference to a January 11 broadcast, during which Zottor accused Archibald Yao Letsa, the Volta regional minister, of poor governance and of attempting to gag the media.
According the National Communications Authority press release, the regulator suspended Radio Tongu in light of Zottor’s arrest and in connection with complaints filed against the station by the Concerned Citizens of Tongu, a local activist group.
The complaints alleged that the station had been used “for defamation, religious teaching to create confusion among churches and for political campaigns promoting the separatists’ agenda of the Western Togoland movement,” according to the statement.
Wisdom Yao Vinho, the secretary of the Concerned Citizens of Tongu, told CPJ in a phone interview that the group filed their complaint because they believed Zottor was using Radio Tongu to divide people in the area with the weekly program on the local separatist movement.
Prince Dogbatse, a spokesperson for the police in the Volta region, told CPJ in a phone interview that he could not comment on the case without permission from his supervisor. He refused to give his supervisor’s contact information to CPJ.
CPJ called Hariet Gomina, a secretary to the National Communications Authority director general’s office, who told CPJ to email questions to the regulator’s official email address. CPJ sent those questions but never received a response.
CPJ’s calls to Letsa went unanswered.