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Newspaper receives more death threats; chief justice announces creation of new human rights court

(MFWA/IFEX) - On 15 July 2008, Western Publications Limited, publishers of the "Daily Guide", an Accra-based, privately-owned daily newspaper, filed a complaint with the head of the Ghana Police Service's Criminal Investigations Department (CID) regarding threats to the lives and security of its staff and property. The threats were received via anonymous telephone calls. This followed frequent death threats that three of the newspaper's senior staff members have recently received.

A letter to the CID's director general stated, "We take these threats seriously and therefore ask your good office for the necessary intervention, because the only offense we know to have committed is doing our legitimate duty of informing the public through our newspaper".

The letter, signed by "Daily Guide" editor Fortune Alimi and copied to MFWA, called for timely intervention to save the newspaper's property and the lives of its employees.

On 5 July, "Daily Guide" publisher and chief executive officer Gina Ama Blay received a death threat for the second time on her cell phone while she was in Japan covering the recent G8 Summit.

One of the messages, sent by an individual identified as "Ahuuuuuya" via SMS read, "So Gina Blay is going to waste our money in Japan. Tell her on arrival that bad news will greet her, da (the) burning down of her press hse (house) n (and) da (the) death of her informant. Dis (This) is not an empty threat, tell her she will be the next to pay [with] her life. Da (The) N (National) Security cannot protect her. Ahuuuuuya".

On her return from Japan on 8 July, Blay received another threat from "Ahuuuuuya". This time the threat was extended to include her son.

Alimi told MFWA in a telephone interview that two other senior staff members, news editor Abdul Rahman Gomda and deputy editor Bennett Akuaku, have also received similar threatening text messages.

The recent threats come barely two weeks after Blay allegedly received death threats from a caller who identified himself as "Gajekpo" and claimed to be a soldier in the Ghana Armed Forces. "Gajekpo" was reported to have been upset about the "Daily Guide"'s 2 July front page. The headline "JJ Goes Mad" referred to a news conference held by former Ghanaian President Jerry John (J.J) Rawlings in which he criticised the ruling government.

The Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) has stated that, "The GJA condemns the issuing of such death threats and rejects attempts by some people to convert the mobile phone into a weapon of intimidation."

MFWA urges the CID to speed up their investigations into the threats and encourages other rights organisations to condemn these cowardly acts of intolerance.

In a separate development, MFWA welcomes the announcement by Ghana's chief justice, Georgina Wood, of the establishment of a national human rights court.

On 14 July, the state-owned "Daily Graphic" newspaper reported Justice Wood as saying that the court, which will start operating in October, will serve as a division of the High Court and is intended to deal exclusively with human rights cases.

Wood, who was addressing police prosecutors in Kumasi, Ghana's second largest city, said the creation of the special court was an initiative by the judiciary aimed at promoting the rule of law and reducing the frustrations that Ghanaians experience daily when their rights are abused.

MFWA could not agree more with the chief justice as the setting up of the court will increase awareness and human rights protection in the country. The organisation is hopeful that the new court will ease the burden of the under-resourced Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ).

MFWA welcomes the establishment of the new Human Rights Court and hopes for its speedy expansion into all regions of the country. The organisation would also like to urge the government of Ghana to allocate enough resources toward ensuring that the Human Rights Court will become a well established, respected and functioning department within the Ghanaian judicial system. Furthermore, MFWA encourages Ghanaian citizens and civil society to support and make full use of the proposed court to advance human rights promotion and culture in Ghana.

Updates the Blay case:

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