The remission granted the three Montie FM contemnors by President John Dramani Mahama is a worrying development in the country because it emboldens people to go on the airwaves to make all manner of comments with the assurance that the president will order their release should they be jailed, Sulemana Braimah, Executive Director of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), has said.
A statement signed and released on Monday, 22 August, by Communications Minister Dr. Edward Omane Boamah said: “The President of the Republic of Ghana, His Excellency John Dramani Mahama, has, in consultation with the Council of State and in exercise of his constitutional powers under Article 72 of the constitution, remitted the remainder of the prison sentence imposed on three persons: Salifu Maase (alias Mugabe), Alistair Nelson, and Ako Gunn, who were sentenced to four months’ imprisonment and a fine of GHS10,000.00 each for contempt of court. The remission is effective 26th August, 2016.”
“The three were sentenced on 27 July, 2016 and have served part of the prison sentences imposed on them. They have also paid the GHS10, 000.00 (ten thousand cedis) fines. The decision of His Excellency the President to remit their sentences on compassionate grounds follows a petition submitted to him by the contemnors appealing to the president to exercise his prerogative of mercy even as they continue to express deep remorse and regret for the unacceptable statements they made against the judiciary.
“His Excellency President Mahama takes this opportunity to remind all Ghanaians of the need to respect the institutions of state and exercise freedom of speech responsibly mindful of the need to preserve peace and national unity. The president reminds all concerned especially persons working in the media or appearing on its platforms to be circumspect and guard against the use of intemperate language which has the potential of causing unnecessary tension especially in this election year.
“The President is hopeful that all will draw lessons from the events leading to the conviction of the three persons and bear in mind the consequences of injudicious utterances.”
Speaking in an interview with Emefa Apawu on Class91.3FM’s 505 news programme on Tuesday, 23 August, Mr. Braimah said: “As an organisation and as a person, I will be the last person to advocate that somebody should be sent to jail or be kept in jail for media offences but…we are talking about a group of people who did not only scandalise the judiciary but we are talking scandalising the highest court of our land. That is the place when all of us get to the crunch in terms of judicial matters, that is where we go, and the court that indeed heard the presidential election petition and made the decision that the results as declared by the Electoral Commission, which had President Mahama elected as president, should be the one we should abide by.”
“We are talking about a group we had persistently drawn attention to the fact that what is happening on this radio network is completely not what journalism should be and, therefore, we should all be concerned about. … I think that the context is very important and I believe that the president on almost every Republic Day grants pardon to, sometimes hundreds, sometimes thousands, of prisoners and at no point has anyone had the occasion to question why the president will do that and whether the president had the powers to do that and, therefore, for me it is not a debate about whether the president had the powers or doesn’t have the powers.
“…Also, amidst that, the government, the president, I believe knew what was happening and quite obviously nobody can convince me that these people were doing what they were doing and the government or the party was not aware. Indeed, we had heard reports about somebody saying [he] set up that radio station to counter another station. That is why I think people are expressing worry about the signal that this sent. Does this, therefore, mean that anybody at all can go on radio and decide to threaten people and when they threaten people there is a precedent set where all you have to do is to petition the president and after serving maybe just a quarter or less of your term the president will be granting you a pardon?” Mr. Braimah wondered.
“I think that is a worrying development in terms of what it will potentially do for people who go on air and what they may think that they can say and go scot-free. I am looking at the broader view of what this development means for press freedom, means for freedom of expression, and means for decent campaigning, and I am saying that right before even the Supreme Court took the action, the president, the government, the party, knew that these were the kind of things that these people are saying on radio.”