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General News of Tuesday, 6 September 2016


Your words can bite you badly – Ace Ankomah warns

Private legal practitioner, Ace Anan Ankomah has warned that a number of prohibitive laws in the country’s statute books that many Ghanaians do not pay attention to prescribe severe punishment for reckless speech and rude behaviour.

“Your right to free speech does not mean you can threaten a person with harm or death.

“It may be mere words but threat of harm is misdemeanour and attracts three years jail term, but if you threaten death, it attracts jail term of up to 10 years.

“Our right to free speech is not absolute so whether it is exercised by the media or outside the media, our laws provide consequences,” he stressed.

He was delivering a lecture on theme ‘Should there be any limit on what people say or write in the media?’, organised by Forum for Accountability and Democratic Governance, in collaboration with OccupyGhana.

According to him, almost all the rights under the constitution, such as interest of defence, public safety, public order, public health, movement or resident within Ghana, running of essential services, almost all have derogation.

He added that those derogations should be shown not to be reasonably justifiable in terms of the spirit of the constitution for it to apply.

Lawyer Ankomah, who is the Managing Partner at Bentsi-Enchill, Letsa & Ankomah, warned that it was not the case that the repeal of the criminal libel law meant that speech was going to be forever free.

“When we discarded the criminal libel regime, many shouted uhuru, but it wasn’t uhuru yet, because words can still bite the utterer of the word.

“Because when you look at the constitution and the right to free speech, which also includes the right to free expression and freedom of the media, the Constitution68576461 itself tells us that right is subject to a number of derogation.

“Almost all the rights given to us under the constitution had derogation.

“But those derogations should be shown not to be reasonably justifiable in the terms of the constitution for it to apply,” he stated.

Lawyer Ankomah listed a number of offences that could be committed.

“It is an offence to quarrel or make noise or seeming noise, sing a profane, indecent, obscene, scurrilous or abusive form, or expose defamatory or insulting writing that are noise and irritate others.

“You might have freedom of expression but if you sing a profane song and it annoys someone, you could go to jail.

“If you assemble to beat, play or dance to drums, gong gong, tomtom, or other musical instruments without written permission of district assembly, you could be tried and sentenced.

“If you drum within a 300-yard radius of a court, you commit an offence.

“And if you drum with an intent to challenge, provoke, insult or annoy a person, you commit an offence.

“If you are in a town and, after being warned not to, you make loud noise which annoys or disturbs people without the license of the minister, or if you play a drum, gong gong between the hours of 8pm and 6am, or if you are drunk and behave in a disorderly manner violently or indecently in public, or if you go to a church or mosque and behave in a manner that is indecent, or if you behave in such a way near a funeral or burial ground when a person is being buried, you commit an offence.

“If you insult or bring the national flag or emblem into disrepute or contempt or a representation of it, you commit an offence,” he said.

Speaking at the event, veteran journalist, Ms Elizabeth Ohene observed that there are prohibitive laws – laws that can make people feel like they have been constricted – but the truth of the matter is that journalists always find a way out.

“The whole thing about journalism that works is that it should be constantly pushing the limit,” she added.

She was emphatic that there are things that cannot be measured as freedom of speech.

“Hate speech, threats of killing somebody or raping somebody do not constitute freedom of speech; they do not; they cannot constitute freedom of speech.

“We have seen them in their extremities in countries and it has brought a lot of trouble.

“Let us not delude ourselves that we will be trying to protect anything called freedom of speech by threatening whether it is Elizabeth Ohene or judges of the Supreme Court.

“In this country, we lived through judges being picked up from their homes and killed.

“So, we have a track record. So if somebody says that we know where those people lived and when there is trouble we go there and finish them, it is not freedom of speech,” she said.

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