July 9, 2013 (Lead Story)
The General Secretary of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Mr Kwadwo Owusu-Afriyie, also known as Sir John, is the latest personality whose alleged contemptuous comments have caught the attention of the Supreme Court.
He is alleged to have made statements about the bench hearing the December 7 and 8, 2008 presidential election petition.
Drawing the attention of the court's audience to a publication on the front page of the Enquirer newspaper in which Sir John is reported to have made contemptuous statements in respect of the justices, the presiding judge, Mr Justice William Atuguba, said, “We will call for the tape and advise ourselves.”
He also referred to another comment made by an unnamed political commentator who is alleged to have said, “We shall cut the heads of NDC supporters if the Supreme Court declares President Mahama winner.”
The “Silenced” Three
The court has jailed two persons and barred another from attending the hearing of the case for scandalising the dignity of the court.
The Editor of the Daily Searchlight, Kenneth Agyei Kuranchie, and a member of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) communication team, Stephen Atubiga, were on July 2, 2013 sentenced to 10 days and three days’ imprisonment, respectively, for falling foul of the court’s order to people to desist from making prejudicial comments about the ongoing petition.
Atubiga has since completed his jail term, while Kuranchie has a couple of days to finish serving his sentence.
The first person to suffer the court’s punishment was the Deputy Communications Director of the NPP, Mr Sammy Awuku, who had accused the court of being selective and hypocritical for expressing displeasure over a Daily Guide news report.
Guilty of Criminal Contempt
Kuranchie and Atubiga were found guilty of criminal contempt, in clear contravention of the Supreme Court’s June, 24, 2013 order which directed all persons to desist from making prejudicial comments and distortion of facts in the ongoing presidential election petition.
The court began cracking its legal whip after several warnings to lawyers, social commentators, political activists and journalists for decorum had gone unheeded.
What kind of posturing is this?
Speaking on behalf of his colleagues on the bench, Mr Justice Atuguba said although people had the right to exercise their freedom of speech, those rights came with “limitations”.
He wondered why people thought they could exercise their right to free speech without considering that every right had its limitations and queried, “What kind of posturing is this?”
The court appealed to the public to desist from drawing the court’s attention to every issue it deemed prejudicial to the ongoing election petition.
Describing the feeling of having to summon persons before it to answer contemptuous comments as “unpleasant”, Mr Justice Atuguba maintained that the court’s failure to fulfill its duty “can be very grave”.
He said the court proceeded with moderation with regard to its warning to the public to be decorous but had to “raise the temperature a bit more” when it realised that terrible things were going on.
Mr Justice Atuguba said the court had decided to overlook the “not-too-grave issues” to avoid the situation of hauling more people before the court to answer for contemptuous comments, adding, “Otherwise, more people will suffer.”
He wondered what was to be gained from political extremism, pointing out that that tendency did not augur well for Ghana’s democracy.
• The Supreme Court has issued several warnings to lawyers, journalists, social commentators and political activists from making prejudicial comments concerning the ongoing presidential election petition.
• Observing that the warnings were not been heeded to, the court, on June 26, 2013, smoked out the Deputy Communications Director of the NPP, Mr Sammy Awuku, from attending the election petition hearing until the final determination of the petition.
• The court’s final touchline warning took effect from June 24, 2013. Therefore, all other persons who might have made grievous comments about the ongoing case have been spared by “statutory limitation”.
• The petitioners in the election petition are the presidential candidate of the NPP, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo; his running mate, Dr Mahamadu Bawumia, and the Chairman of the NPP, Mr Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey.
• The respondents — President John Dramani Mahama, the Electoral Commission (EC) and the NDC — are praying the court to dismiss the petitioners’ claims of over-voting, persons voting without undergoing biometric verification, some presiding officers not signing pink sheets and some polling stations having the same serial numbers as without basis.