The Human Rights Advocacy Centre (HRAC) strongly condemns the recent assault and detention of photojournalist Gifty Lawson and her two bodyguards Anthony Antwi and Michael Awampagaby the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) officials during the conduct of her professional and legitimate duties. Ironically, and perhaps most shamefully, the attack occurred on the grounds of the Human Rights Court, a respected and invaluable institution of justice for the Republic of Ghana.
This violent attack represents not only a violation of Ms. Lawson’s fundamental personal rights and dignity but also an affront to the constitutionally protected principle of free press essential to the sustainment of democratic rule. The HRAC further condemns in no uncertain terms the failure of BNI to recognize its role in the attack, underscoring a continued apathy towards the Bureau’s responsibilities to the Ghanaian people and a persistent abuse of power over the years.
Indeed, this current scandal serves to highlight the fact that the BNI has been an agency that consistently oversteps its authority.Pursuant to Article 14(1) of the Constitution, the BNI’s powers of arrest can be exercised only under one of seven circumstances – none of which are applicable to the case of Ms.Lawson.
Conceivably far worse than not respecting the scope of its powers however, it seems that the BNI is entirely indifferent towards its own purpose and objectives. Pursuant to Section 12 of the Security and National Intelligence Agencies Act, the BNI is tasked with (a) collecting information, (b) safeguarding Ghana’s economic wellbeing, (c) protecting the state against sabotage or terrorism and (d) pursuing those attempting to overthrow the government. It is hardly necessarily to labour the point here: taking photographs of an accused officer is incongruent with these purposes.
Unfortunately, Thursday’s (January 12, 2012) attack on Ms.Lawson cannot be regarded an isolated event perpetrated by a few overzealous BNI officers as the bureau has a troubling history of abuse and it is within the interests of all Ghanaians to ensure that the BNI remains strictly within their mandate as a legitimate security institution of a democratic republic.
In addition to a thorough investigation by the Inspector General of the Ghana Police Service (IGP), (proposed by the Ghana Journalists Association) the HRAC recommends a thorough investigation by the National Security Council (NSC), and the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) into the circumstances surrounding this most unfortunate incident, as well as an expedited prosecution of the perpetrators, the HRAC seeks a comprehensive government audit of the operating procedures of the BNI and its officers in order to protect the citizenry from continued abuses.
Human Rights Advocacy Centre- Osu Ako Adjei, Accra