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GHANA STUDIES / Volume 8 ISSN 1536-5514 / E-ISSN 2333-7168© 2007 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 127 GOING, GOING, GONE! Implications of the Repeal of Criminal Libel and Sedition Laws in Ghana EMMANUEL LARYEA KWAMENA KWANSAH-AIDOO Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a Government without Newspapers, or Newspapers without a Government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. (Thomas Jefferson, 1787)1 Introduction One of the first laws enacted by the NPP government after assuming office in 2001 was The Criminal Code (Repeal of Criminal Libel and Seditious Laws) (Amendment) Act 2001 (hereafter CLSR Act). The CLSR Act repealed the offences of criminal libel and sedition in Ghana, as well as revoking certain executive powers conferred on the President, by the Criminal Code,2 to ban organisations, and to prohibit importation or publication of newspapers . Although newspapers and other private media flourished after the promulgation of the 1992 Constitution, the notion of freedom of the media was contradicted by the existence of severe criminal libel and sedition laws. The changes to the act came as no surprise to members of the media in Ghana. In opposition the NPP campaigned against the act as being inconsistent with the freedoms enshrined in the 1992 Constitution. For example, the Attorney-General at the time of the repeal, Nana Akuffo-Addo, had earlier argued unsuccessfully in the Supreme Court that the provisions of the 1. Cited in J. Keane, The Media and Democracy (1991) Polity Press, Cambridge, p. 2. 2. Criminal Code, 1960 (Act 29), Ghana (hereafter “Criminal Code”). 128 Ghana Studies • volume 8 • 2005 act were unconstitutional.3 The NPP promised to repeal the act when they won power. Apart from predictable dissension by the minority NDC in parliament ,4 the vast majority of Ghanaians, both at home and in the diaspora, welcomed the CLSR Act.5 In the main, the CLSR Act has been seen as key to freedom of speech and association, and a major positive development in Ghana’s young and fledgling democracy. In this article, we look beyond the euphoria to present some critical thoughts on the implications of the repeals for government, the mass media , and Ghanaians in general. There are two main arguments: first, while most of the repealed provisions were anachronistic and out of touch with modern day realities in Ghana, the repeal of some of the provisions leaves lacunae in the law. The second argument is that the repeal of the libel provisions may be less significant than was thought as the tort of defamation is still extant. Before delving into the implications of the repeal, however, we trace briefly the history and development of the former provisions to provide context for our subsequent analyses. 3. Republic v. Tommy Thompson Books Ltd. (No.2), Tommy Thompson & Eben Quarcoo [1996–97] SCGLR 484; and Republic v. Tommy Thompson Book Ltd., Eben Quarcoo & Kofi Coomson [1996–97] SCGLR 804. There were three Supreme Court decisions involving Tommy Thompson Books Ltd. The third is Republic v. Tommy Thompson Book Ltd. (No. 1), Tommy Thompson & Eben Quarcoo [1996–97] SCGLR 312. From this point forward, where reference is made to the cases generally, they are referred to as the Tommy Thompson cases, otherwise the specific case will be cited. Nana Akuffo-Addo was leading counsel for some of the accused. 4. See the Official Report of Parliamentary Debates 4th Series, vol. 29 No. 46, 24 July 2001, 2374-2455. However, conscious they were unable to prevent enactment of the law, and probably wanting to be seen as media friendly, the opposition party voted in favour of the bill. 5. The provisions had been applied during the period of NDC rule from 1993–2000. An example can be seen in the Tommy Thompson cases, cited in footnote 3 above. Laryea and Kwansah-Aidoo • Going, Going, Gone! 129 A Brief Overview of the History, Development and Operation of Criminal Libel and Sedition Laws in Ghana The previous provisions have their roots in the colonial era. Between 1884 and 1936, various statutes were enacted which made slanderous, libellous or seditious words, as well as simply publishing without licence, criminal...


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