Remand Prisoners in Ghana

Remand prisoners, on the day their bail application was approved (August, 2012)

One of the major human rights violations in Ghana regards the treatment of remand prisoners (ie: prisoners that are in prison awaiting trial). Many of them have spent years in prison waiting for their trial. Also, many remand prisoners are being held in prison on an expired warrant of commitment.

A warrant of commitment is the document that gives the prison the authority to hold a prisoner and contains the reason why someone is in prison. The warrant of commitment of remand prisoners contains a time limit; a judge should decide every 14 days whether or not the warrant should be renewed. This often does not happen, due to system inefficiencies and lack of resources, but is an important safeguard against holding prisoners for no reason or without following due process.

In February 2012, HRAC decided to take up the cases of six prisoners on remand to try and ensure that the rights of remand prisoners are upheld. HRAC is arguing that the amount of time some of them spend in prison and the fact that many do not have valid warrants is unconstitutional (see e.g. Article 14), against several sections of the Criminal Procedure Code and is not in conformity with many international human rights treaties signed by Ghana.

HRAC has taken on the cases of 6 remand prisoners, and wants to share their stories with you.

Peter Doe

Mr Peter Doe is a 30 year old Togolese man who was accused of rape in 2007. Mr Doe has the right to have his case heard in front of a judge, which is a right outlined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights which applies to all Ghanaians. He has been to court several times but up until now, his case has not been heard. On one occasion he asked for bail, but it was refused.  Although his case has been pending for five years, his Bill of Indictment has not yet been handed down, so his case has not even formally commenced.  Despite this, no moves have been made to strike out his case: instead he has been waiting in prison.

Kingsford Asare

Remand prisoners, and prison officers, on the day their bail application was approved (August, 2012)

In 2006 Mr. Asare was accused of murdering his friend’s employer, along with two others. The two others were granted bail, but this was not the case for Mr Asare. Mr Asare has been in Nsawam prison for six years now. During these six years his warrant of commitment had expired, but without having access to justice, he has remained imprisoned.

Francis Kudjoe

Mr. Kudjoe was a27 year old trader who was married and had a 10 year old son. In 2003 he visited a friend who gave him some brandy, a tape recorder and some iron. Following the visit, he was arrested for theft. As it turned out, the items never belonged to Mr Kudjoe or his friend, but to his friend’s employer.

In 2011, Mr Kudjoe pled guilty to his crime and was sentenced to eight years imprisonment: an amount of time he had already served in prison. Despite his eligibility for release,  Mr Kudjoe remains in prison, separated from his now 18-year-old son.

Emmanuel Kotoka Agoha

In 2006, Emmanuel Kotoka Agoha was arrested for causing damage, along with four other men. Mr. Agoha asked for bail, but was refused. The other four men were released on bail. Mr Agoha has been held on an expired warrant since 2008, and was not even aware that his case had been transferred to the High Court while he waited in prison.

Zourkalem Adamu

Nigerian national Zourkalem Adamu was arrested while smoking Indian hemp in Agbogbloshie. He admitted he was in possession of one roll of hemp. Although he was made to appear several times in court, the judges never made a decision on his case. In July 2011 the Justice for All program discharged him and the judge decided he should be deported back to Niger. However, he is still in prison.

Remand prisoners in the Courts on the day their bail application was approved (August, 2012)

Opoku Tupeh

Mr Tupeh was a fisherman in Old Ningo, Ghana up until 2003. In that year he was accused of raping a woman from his village.. Mr Tupeh has only been to court a handful of times since his arrest. Up until 2011 he has been held on remand; first in James Fort Prison and later in Nsawam Prison. Mr Tupeh was in fact discharged by the court in the ‘Justice for All’ program but for unknown reasons, has not yet been released from prison.

Like many remand prisoners, the six men assisted by HRAC have had sparse experience with the law, and limited legal knowledge. The men also lack the resources to hire professional lawyers.

HRAC gives them pro bono legal assistance, and so far it is working: in July 2012 the Human Rights Court of Ghana granted bail for all six prisoners. Still, these prisoners were asked for a surety of  a sum as big as 40,000 GHC. This was far out of the reach of these men, but fortunately, this case got the ball rolling, and most of the prisoners were released as part of the Justice for All program. However, HRAC’s case – to try to get a declaration that holding prisoners on remand for this extended periods of time is unlawful – continues. We will keep you updated as to the progress of this case!