Dr George Akuffo Dampre, the Inspector General of Police

I have read and heard about those dangerous purposeless campaigns once again – free this, free that. You get on these campaigns only because someone has been arrested to face court over acts and actions, leading to criminal investigations and possible prosecutions. It is dangerous to our individual and collective security and serves no purpose if it is not that their rights have been violated or that there is a threatened violation of their rights.

Some fans of ‘celebrities’ jump on these campaigns without deep consideration and sometimes in risky demonstrations. But it might be useful to pause and ponder if you will get any attention at all, even if you got into a situation of malicious prosecution and sheer abuse by law enforcement agencies. Ordinary people get arrested each day over false and flimsy accusations. They are maltreated, exploited and thrown into police cells, sometimes beyond the constitutional 48 hours. Some, without being convicted, are even locked and forgotten in jails. Others languish in jail for their inability to pay chicken-change fines.

Often, these campaigns are born out of sheer ignorance of very basic law. I like to share by repeating references to some of these laws that we all ought to know. You may have become used to people issuing threats of harm and death, including the broadcast of frightening charlatanic prophecies, making wild defamatory comments, brandishing guns, et al. The fact that you hear, see and read about such and those involved getting away with it does not mean that there are no consequences – civil and/or criminal.

Benson Nana Yaw Oduro Boateng, aka Funny Face, was arrested for issuing threats of harm and death. The law in sections 74 and 75 of our Criminal Offences Act is rather plain that if you threaten someone with “unlawful harm with intent to put that person in fear” of harm, you commit an offence and could face up to three years in jail. Likewise, if you put someone in fear of death by threatening them with death, you commit an offence and could face up to ten years in jail.

Charles Nii Armah Mensah, aka Shatta Wale and his aides and that pastor in custody, Prophet Stephen Akwasi, aka Jesus Ahuofe, tell me what the police have done wrong. Section 208 this same 1960 law makes it an offence to publish false “statement, rumour or report which is likely to cause fear and alarm to the public or to disturb the public peace”. It is punished by up to three years in jail unless you can prove that you “took reasonable measures to verify the accuracy of the statement, rumour or report” before spreading it. I, naturally, have issues with this law, but that’s for another Take.

Guess what? As recently as 2008, we sought to re-rendered this law and enhanced the punishment in section 76 of the Electronic Communications Act. As a result, you face a fine of up to ¢36,000 or up to five years in jail or both the fine and prison term for such an act. It declares in similar terms that “[a] person who by means of electronic communications service, knowingly sends a communication which is false or misleading and likely to prejudice the efficiency of life-saving service or to endanger the safety of any person, ship, aircraft, vessel or vehicle commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than three thousand penalty units or a term of imprisonment of not more than five years or both.”

In subsection (2), it is obvious that only caution, care, and verification of the information exonerates you. It says, “[a] person is taken to know that a communication is false or misleading if that person did not take reasonable steps to find out whether the communication was false, misleading, reckless or fraudulent.”

Samuel Adu Frimpong, aka Medikal, was arrested for publicly displaying a gun. I am minded that the strict definition of the prohibited act being no display in a public place may engage a legal debate since the video showing him with the gun may not have been recorded in public. Is it possible it was a toy gun, you have asked, and I laugh at that. I decline to state my view on what ought to be the appropriate interpretation until the case is over.

The Arms and Ammunition Act 1972 says people do not have an automatic right to own guns. There are conditions to owning and using a gun, and a breach of those conditions, by section 26, could attract a fine of up to ¢12,000 or up to five years in jail or both. Section 7 commands that a “person shall not, except in accordance with the terms of a permit granted under this Act or with the prior written consent of the Inspector-General of Police, publicly display any arms or ammunition or discharge a firearm or any other weapon in a public place.” The law punishes breaches of other conditions of the grant of licence to own and use a gun by imposing up to three years jail term and possible seizure of the gun on the instructions of the interior minister.

I have campaigned many times against judges who use bail as punishment. That is clearly contrary to the law. We must continue to condemn such and insist on full compliance with the Constitution and laws requiring presumption of innocence of suspects/accused persons and laws and jurisprudence against unreasonable and punitively onerous bail conditions. We must, however, not be quick to bastardise the courts in a manner suggesting that bail is automatic because it is not.

Yes, the discretion to be exercised must be exercised not capriciously but judicially, and it is the court that often has the facts the public may not have.

IGP George Akuffo Dampare is doing all the right things to instil discipline and sanity for our individual and collective good. However, the police deserve our support and encouragement if we want a country like those many of us frequently travel to and refer to as the best places we desire to live.

Samson Lardy ANYENINI
October 23, 2021

Issue #35

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