MFWA concerned about judicial harassment of freelance journalist Sacut Amenga-Etego

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The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) is highly disappointed with the orders of the High Court (Criminal Court 5 Division) in Accra to have freelance journalist, Sacut Amenga-Etego detained for two weeks for “illegal” filming.

Amenga-Etego was arrested on February 25, 2022, by operatives of National Security, who accused him of filming them and suspects in their custody on the premises of the High Court.

After hearing accusations from Detective Inspector Dometi Wisdom of the National Security against the journalist, the Court presided over by Her Ladyship, Lydia Osei Marfo, ordered his detention for two weeks to reappear on March 14, 2022.

Detective Inspector Dometi Wisdom had told the Court that the journalist was found to have also filmed inside the courtroom after initially denying having made any visual recordings. The Detective said he discovered the secret recording when the court ordered the freelancer to delete the videos and pictures he had taken.

Her Ladyship, Lydia Osei Marfo, said Amenga-Etego did not have accreditation to cover the Court, adding that the journalist could pose a security threat to the Court and the Court Complex at large, if not the whole country. She, therefore, granted the National Security leave to arrest and detain the suspect, seize his phone and conduct further investigation to establish if the journalist had any intention to commit any crime.

Notwithstanding the fact that the journalist may have erred in filming the courtroom, the MFWA finds it unfortunate and excessive that the Court ordered him to be detained for two weeks.

We find it curious that the filming of court proceedings by a journalist could arouse suspicion of intent to commit a crime or pose a security threat to the “court complex or the whole nation.”

While we welcome Amenga-Etego’s subsequent discharge by the same court on March 1, 2022, we have learnt with dismay that the National Security has re-arrested the journalist on bribery charges. The journalist was taken back into detention immediately after being released by the Court.

Amenga-Etego is a trained journalist and a regular feature on a number of socio-political shows on radio. He is known for his outspoken and critical posture.

His troubles come in the wake of a series of arrests and detention of journalists and activists in Ghana over the past month.

On February 8, 2022, a High Court in Accra sentenced a broadcast journalist with Accra-based Power FM, Oheneba Boamah Bennie, to 14 days in prison after he was found guilty of contempt of court. The journalist was dragged to the High Court by Ghana’s Attorney General after he posted a Facebook video containing allegations that President Nana Akufo-Addo was influencing judges sitting on a petition by the opposition against his 2020 presidential election victory.

On February 10, the police detained Kwabena Bobbie Ansah, a presenter at Accra FM, on a charge of “publication of false news and offensive conduct.” The charges relate to a video the journalist posted on social media claiming that President Nana Akufo-Addo’s wife had illegally obtained a parcel of state land.

Some activists have also been arrested on false news charges. On February 9, the Executive Director of an anti-corruption organization, Alliance of Social Equity and Public Accountability (ASEPA) was arrested by the police. He had published and later retracted allegations that members of the President’s family travelled by the Presidential jet to the UK for shopping.

Another activist, Oliver Barker Mawuse Vormawor, was arrested on February 11, following a post he made on social media threatening to stage a coup himself if a controversial electronic levy bill is passed by Parliament

A political activist and a member of the ruling New Patriotic Party, Kwame Baffoe, was also arrested on February 15, after alleging that ex-Ghana President John Mahama, was planning to stage a coup.

While the MFWA acknowledges that the country’s media space has been infested with some reckless and unprofessional conduct, it is disturbed by the increasing resort to police repression in dealing with the issue, most of which could have been referred to the independent media regulator, the National Media Commission (NMC).

For a country like Ghana which is widely admired for its entrenched democratic culture, the phenomenal surge in repression and intimidation of journalists and activists portrays this particular government as thin-skinned and over-sensitive. We, therefore, call for restraint on all sides and urge the NMC to proactively deal with cases of media unprofessionalism and abuse of the right to freedom of expression in the media. This way, it will stay the repressive hand of the police from intruding into the media regulation space.