General News of Monday, 19 July 2010
Government Attacks Journalist With Criminal Charges
Read the blog from the journalist Ato Kwabena Dadzie about how the Information Minister of Ghana, Mr. John Tia, tries to intimidate the press in Ghana using the CID:
CHARGED... for sealing the lips
A few hours ago, I was charged with a criminal offence. It’s the same charge being faced by Nana Darkwa, who accused Rawlings of setting fire to his own house.
The state is charging me with the offence of publishing news “with intent to cause fear and alarm” after I refused to name the sources behind a news item broadcast on Joy FM. If convicted, I could be jailed for no more than three years.
As some of you may be aware, I have been acting as news editor at Joy FM since Matilda Asante’s resignation in April.
On July 6, we published a news story that the Ghana Real Estate Developers Association (GREDA) withdrew its petition to parliament against the STX Housing deal after some of its members were threatened either with death or the abrogation of government contracts.
The next day government issued a strongly-worded statement alleging that the story had been “concocted”. “The station, by this wild and deliberately concocted report cloaked in investigative pretentions, sought to cause fear and anxiety amongst the business community and the general citizenry,” the statement, signed by Information Minister, John Tia, said. “Government is deeply offended by the JoyFM publication and demands that the management of the station substantiates its claims immediately or retracts the allegations and apologizes to the President, Government and people of Ghana accordingly. Meanwhile, Government has directed the security agencies to investigate the claim because death threats are not to be handled lightly.”
A few days after the release of that statement, we received a letter from the CID Headquarters, inviting me to report at the CID headquarters to help with the investigations. I responded to the invitation last Friday – in the company of a lawyer, the producer of the Super Morning Show and the business development manager for the Multimedia Group, Charles van Dyke. After waiting for about 45 minutes we were ushered into an office whose walls were almost entirely adorned with the photographs of former heads of the CID – even from as far back as the colonial era.
There were four men seated at a large table. The man at the head of the table spoke first in a raspy voice. “My name is Dorvlo,” he said with a smile. “I hope you have heard the name before.”
“Not really,” I said.
“Well, I am the new CID director,” he announced, asking to be pardoned for his voice because he had a cold.
He proceeded to tell us why he had invited us to his office – they were investigating a story aired on Joy FM. He then handed us over to two men later led us into another office on an upper floor in the CID headquarters building for questioning.
They asked me to name the source of our report, saying they needed to know those who had been threatened so they could offer protection for those who had been threatened, and possibly, prevent a crime from being committed.
I refused to name the sources, insisting that no journalist worth the paper he writes on would reveal his sources.
Then they took my caution statement. They set a bail of five thousand cedis for me and asked me to report to today.
I went back to the CID headquarters, as scheduled, this afternoon at 1pm. After waiting for about an hour, I was told to call my lawyer. I did and shortly after he showed up – along with some members of the top brass of the Multimedia Group – I was informed that I was being charged with the “publication of false news with intent to cause fear and alarm.”
Once again, bail was set and Charles van Dyke signed the bail bond. I was released and initially told that I’d make my first court appearance on Wednesday. But about two hours after I returned to the office, the investigator called to tell me that I will be informed about the court date on Wednesday afternoon.
“I need to submit a report to my bosses first,” he said.
I have no choice so I’ll wait for those “bosses” to make up their minds.
In the meantime, lawyers have advised that I refrain from making any comments on the criminal charges leveled against me. All I can say, for now, is that I am unfazed. I am hoping for the best but I’m very prepared for the worst.
CHARGED... for sealing the lips