I am humbled by this baptism of fire,” were the exact words of the General Secretary of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Kwadwo Owusu-Afriyie, before the Supreme Court convicted him for intentional criminal contempt of the court yesterday.
A humble-looking and remorseful Owusu-Afriyie, popularly known as Sir John, stood meekly, with both hands clutched at his back, when the court convicted him and sentenced him to a fine of GH¢5,000.
The court, which was initially skeptical of Sir John’s remorsefulness, accepted the apologies from his lawyer and unanimously found him guilty of criminal contempt, imposed a GH¢5,000 fine on him and directed him to pay the money by the close of work today, August 15, 2013.
In default, Sir John, who was saved by several pleas from his lawyer, Mr Ayikoi Otoo, will go to prison for six months.
He was also bonded to be of good behaviour for six months and to retract and apologise his contemptuous words on the same platform where he uttered them within 24 hours.
Sir John, a lawyer of 32 years’ experience, rushed out of the courtroom after signing the bond to be of good behaviour and refused to grant interviews to the teeming media personnel who had chased him to his vehicle.
Hopeson Adorye convicted
Another culprit, Hopeson Adorye, a member of the Communications Team of the NPP, was convicted of criminal contempt for a similar offence and fined GH¢2,000 or in default face three months’ imprisonment.
Described as a lay man by the Bench, Adorye was also bonded to be of good behaviour for three months or in default face three months’ imprisonment.
Sir John was convicted for accusing the bench of being biased, as well as using unprintable words to describe the panel members, while Adorye was convicted for stating that the heads of members of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) would be chopped off if President Mahama was declared victor of the petition challenging his legitimacy.
Bond Signed and Fines Paid
Both contemnors have since signed their bonds to be of good behaviour, as well as paid the fines.
A former Member of Parliament for Asikuma-Odoben-Brakwa, Mr P. C. Appiah-Ofori, paid the fines on behalf of the contemnors.
It was an unusual scene as Sir John, a known firebrand, stood quietly while Mr Otoo rendered unreserved apology to the nine-member panel hearing the election petition amid the cracking of jokes to assuage the anger of the Bench.
Mr Otoo, a former Attorney-General, did not mince words in admitting that his client was wrong in uttering the contemptuous words on Oman FM, a private radio station.
Counsel had a tough time pleading with the bench and at a point told the court that yesterday was his birthday and so the court should take that into consideration in dealing with Sir John.
Mr Otoo conceded that the court had awesome powers, but indicated that his client had begun the process of purging himself of contempt by issuing guidelines to NPP communicators across the country to speak with decorum.
Counsel told the court that Sir John “has taken very decisive steps” which had resulted in the airwaves being calm and free of ill-spoken words and, accordingly, pleaded with the court not to impose a custodial sentence on him.
Power we have no control over
Asked by Mr Justice Jones Dotse if he (Mr Otoo) had enquired from Sir John what had come over him to make him utter those words, Mr Otoo explained jovially that some powers his client had no authority over called “Gbeshie” might have come over him.
Mr Justice Dotse said he could not believe it when he read the content of the newspaper which had published Sir John’s words attacking the bench because “he is a very senior lawyer” who had mates on the Supreme Court panel, adding that it was unfortunate for Sir John to have asked the relatives of the judges hearing the case to plan the funerals of the judges.
He said he was “saddened” that none of the NPP leadership condemned Sir John’s contemptuous words and said it was unfortunate for such words to be uttered because they could endanger the peace in the country
Mr Justice Dotse urged Ghanaians and politicians to be “careful and measured in utterances” and also advised them to speak on issues that would enhance the development of the country.
Mr Justice Atuguba descends on reckless politicians
In a shaky and upset voice, Mr Justice Atuguba took a swipe at politicians and persons who had made it a point to run down the institutions of state by their unguarded actions and statements.
Wondering if the state should become “anaemic” because of persons such as Sir John, Mr Justice Atuguba said it was unfortunate for a few politicians who had passports, visas and the opportunity to bolt in the event of a civil strife to endanger the lives of 24 million Ghanaians through their irresponsible acts.
Speaking on behalf of his colleagues, the president assured Ghanaians that the Judiciary would not sit down for their interests and safety to be taken for a ride by a few reckless individuals who did not have the interest of the state at heart.
He asked why people should die for a few negligent politicians who had grown horns and whose actions were purely aimed at running down the state and misleading everybody.
Other members of the panel are Mr Justice Julius Ansah, Mrs Justice Sophia Adinyira, Ms Justice Rose Constance Owusu, Mr Justice Jones Dotse, Mr Justice Anin Yeboah, Mr Justice Paul Baffoe-Bonnie, Mr Justice N. S. Gbadegbe and Mrs Justice Vida Akoto-Bamfo.
Mr Justice Atuguba reminded the Young Patriots of the NPP that it was contemptuous to write letters to the Supreme Court and, accordingly, said the court would refer their action to the National Peace Council.
Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey calls for decency
Expressing joy at the court’s decision, the National Chairman of the NPP, Mr Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, was full of gratitude to the court for exhibiting “magnanimity and sensitivity” in its decision.
He directed members and supporters of the NPP to put the issues behind them and respect the institutions of state.