The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) welcomes the release on bail of David Tamakloe, the Editor of the Accra-based online newspaper, Whatsup News, and urges the police to ensure that his rights are fully respected in the course of investigating the issue.
Mr Tamakloe was arrested on April 1, 2021, for alleged extortion and publication of false news, according to a police statement issued a day later.
"Suspect was arrested on alleged offences of an attempt to commit a crime to wit: extortion contrary to section 18(1) and 151(1) and the publication of false news contrary to section 208 of the Criminal Offences Act 1960 (Act 29)," read the statement signed by DSP Juliana Obeng, Head of Public Affairs of the Police Criminal Investigative Department (CID).
Tamakloe was later released on police enquiry bail and reported again to the police on April 6, 2021, in line with the bail conditions.
The editor has, however, flatly denied the allegations made against him. He told the MFWA in a telephone conversation that his arrest is an act of intimidation aimed at dissuading him from investigating a scandal involving a businesswoman whose husband is a senior police officer.
Tamakloe disclosed that he contacted the businesswoman to give her an opportunity to clarify certain adverse reports he had received about her, and indicated to the police in his statement that he had the businesswoman on tape proposing a meeting.
"I was still at the investigation stage. I have not published anything yet, so I find the allegation of false publication rather ridiculous," Tamakloe told the MFWA.
He said his phone was seized by the police but was later returned to him, adding that while it is not immediately clear that the device has been tampered with, it is likely that it has been subjected to a forensic search.
This is the second time in about five months that the Editor of the highly critical newspaper has been arrested. On October 7, 2020, police officers stormed the offices of Whatsup News and arrested Tamakloe over a publication.
He was charged the next day with the publication of "false news" and granted bail in the sum of GHC 10,000 (about $1,800) with two sureties by a Magistrate Court at New Edubiase in the Ashanti region of Ghana. The case was adjourned to October 22, 2020, but there has since been no development.
While the MFWA welcomes the release of David Tamakloe following his recent arrest on Easter Friday, we are concerned about the charge of false publication in connection with a matter on which there has been no publication.
As an organization that works to promote professionalism in the media, we take a very serious view of the allegation of extortion made against the editor, who is an executive member of the Private Newspaper and Online Publishers Association of Ghana (PRINPAG).
We, therefore, urge the police to conduct a thorough investigation into the complaint and the circumstances surrounding the arrest. Also, given that a senior police officer has a personal interest in the matter, we call on the Police Administration to ensure that the case is handled strictly within the confines of the law and the relevant procedures in order to prevent possible abuses.