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Regional News of Tuesday, 3 February 2004

Source: GNA

I was wrongly accused of concealing gold and beaten mercilessly -


Accra, Feb. 3, GNA - Mr. Kweku Atta, alias Kwabena Ebo, from Akroso in the Eastern Region, on Tuesday told the National Reconciliation Commission that soldiers wrongly accused him of concealing gold in his steering, beat him up mercilessly, and subsequently tried and sentenced him to five years in prison.

The Witness, who said he used to drive a Peugeot 504 car, plying Accra to Aflao in 1985, said the soldiers detected some pieces of gold in the money a passenger had given him for safe-keeping during a check at a village close to Akatsi in the Volta Region.

Mr Atta said when the soldiers failed to apprehend the owner who ran into the bush, they turned on him, and beat him up until he had a blackout, despite protests from the other passengers.

He said the soldiers drove him to Aflao and detained him for three days, although his relatives paid a fine of 30,000 cedis the soldiers had imposed on him.

The Witness said he was transferred to the Ho Mortar Regiment where he was detained together with other men and some women in the same cell. He said he was put before a court, headed by a Major Lamptey at the barracks, which accused him of illegal possession of gold.

Mr Atta said his relatives were prevented from attending the court, which fined him 50,000 cedis, but Major Lamptey rejected the fine and unilaterally sentenced him to five years in prison, out of which he served 40 months.

He said the court did not inform him of any right to appeal, adding that he was denied legal representation and his vehicle seized. The Witness said his car was given to one Sgt John, who was stationed at the Aflao Border at the time and based on whose suspicion he was arrested.

Mr Atta said he owned the car jointly with his brother who has since fallen out with him because of the seizure of the car. He said his marriage also broke down because he could no longer take the taunts of his wife that he had been an ex-convict. He said he had been having sight problem as a result of the slaps he received.

Gen. Emmanuel Alexander Erskine, a Member of the Commission, told the hearing that the said Major Lamptey, now a Colonel, had reacted to a letter from the Commission, explaining that the Witness was charged for concealment of mineral.

The Commissioner pointed out that concealment of minerals was an offence punishable by outright seizure of the vehicle on which the mineral was found.

However, Mr Justice Kweku Etrew Amua-Sekyi condemned the hasty establishment of courts in the military camps that tried people of various offences, adding that the practice characterised military regimes in Ghana.

The Chairman described those "special courts" as nothing more than kangaroo courts, adding that any person who went before such courts had every right to feel aggrieved.

"How can anyone who is being tried and surrounded by guns feel he is having a fair trial?" Mr Justice Amua-Sekyi queried and said it was important to realise that a person accused of an offence was never guilty until tried by a competent court of Jurisdiction.

There should never be an occasion for the same person to arrest, charge, judge and sentence, the NRC Chairman said.

He added that what the soldiers could have done was to have sent the Witness to a tribunal different from what they had in the camp for a fair trial.

He expressed sympathy to the Witness, saying, "This is the right place for you to make your complaint. We'll see what we can do for you."

Another Witness, Mr Patrick Moffat Kasser, proprietor of the defunct Safari Motor Works on the Accra Ring Road, complained of an attack on his garage by soldiers with whom he had a brawl in April 1977.

He said he had then just undergone surgery following a near fatal accident and the attack made his conditions worse and that he had to seek further treatment abroad.

According to Mr Kasser, the soldiers led by one Adjutant Mensah, who he later got to know were from the Base Ordnance Depot, beat him and his pregnant wife, and later followed him to his garage and attacked him again.

They later called for reinforcement and vandalised the garage and made away with cash from his safe, totalling 36,700 cedis at the time. He said efforts through the Attorney General Department to have justice proved futile as the Ministry of Defence repudiated responsibility on the grounds that the soldiers involved were not on official duty.

According to the Witness, some soldiers visited his garage again after the June 4 1979 coup to look for him but he deluded them. The Witness appealed to the Commission to help restore to him a parcel of land on the Graphic road, which he said, he lost because he did not have money to develop it following his predicament with the soldiers, which drained him of his resources.

He mentioned one late Christian Sackey, who he accused of using his influence within the government of the erstwhile Provisional National Defence Council to take the land from him.

Mr. Kasser said he had obtained favourable judgement from the Commission of Human Rights and Administrative Justice, but Sliver Star Auto Limited, a motor firm continued to occupy the premises.