Ghana: Misconceptions About Freedom of Speech and of Assembly

Politicians with jaundiced eyes on protecting their private self-interests are verbally re-writing our laws and lampooning the police as stooges, when they attempt to carry out their legitimate functions.

The 1992 Constitution guarantees the right of every Ghanaian to freely speak his or mind on any topic under the sun and to also congregate for lawful purposes.

But our leaders in government and our representatives in Parliament have, in their wisdom, set boundaries for the exercise of these inalienable freedoms in the form of the Public Order Act, enforceable by the Police.

The Act requires all organisers of public gatherings to put the Police, the primary guarantors of our collective security on notice, and receive a written permit from them.

It is, therefore, mischief of the highest order for any politician, especially the trained lawyers among them, to suggest that any move by the Police to enforce the Act is an attempt to "criminalise" freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

There are various avenues for exercising the two freedoms. For instance one could call a press conference in exercise of them. A press conference organiser does not require a police permit.

But if one wants a big public, in an open space that could obstruct traffic and lead to a possible breakdown of law and order, a police permit is required by law.

The Chronicle wishes to call on our politicians to put aside their faked amnesia and remember that there is no total freedom anywhere in the world. One may not require a police permit to hold a rally in the United States of America, but the security agencies there would move heaven and earth, literally to frustrate any known communist who attempts to publicly disseminate what they would view as his "obnoxious and pernicious" doctrines.

That is a 200-year democracy while ours is just 20 years old. There are fundamental interests of the state that must be protected at all times, unless the state wants, unanimously, to self-destruct. These national interests, including public safety and unity, must not be sacrificed on the platform of political expediency, even while seeking to right perceived wrongs.

A Let My Vote Count Alliance (LMVCA) is a wonderful opportunity to have a supra national pro-clean elections body that its organiser have let slip through their fingers by aligning it to a partisan cause.

Politicians everywhere are ready to steal votes to attain power if given the slightest opportunity, even if merely through rigging the register, but a non-partisan body is needed.

No matter its current orientation for short-term ends, The Chronicle would urge the organisers of the LMVCA to be law abiding. They should let their methodology expose the Police as mindless, if indeed that is what they are.

The LMVCA's current orientation of flouting laid down procedures and crying foul when reined in makes it difficult for "non-politically aligned" Ghanaians to believe the claims of their politically aligned sympathisers that the state is using the Ghana Police to obstruct their freedom to free speech and assembly.

The LMVCA organisers should also note that they have a duty to ensure that their platform is used for lawful purposes at all times, for their own peace of mind.

Even if an organiser of a forum is absent on a specific occasion when it was allegedly used for a subversive activity or issue threats, he is not exonerated from responsibility. He is liable for providing the platform.

They should not be deceived by the lawyers egging them on. They may defend them for free. But when push comes to shove, they may only accompany them to the prison gate; while they would be locked up inside, the lawyers would return home to their wives and children.

To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

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