FREEMAN Kenneth Agyei Kuranchie, Managing Editor of The Daily Searchlight newspaper who was convicted for criminal contempt, has finally spoken about the ordeal he went through in the various detention facilities.
His incarceration came after the nine-member Supreme Court judges sentenced him into 10-days imprisonment for his comments which the court considered as contemptuous.
In an exclusive interview with DAILY GUIDE at his private residence, Ken walked the paper through the psychological trauma that he experienced whilst being shuttled from one prison to the other ostensibly to ‘teach him a lesson’ as is often said.
Below are excerpts of what transpired during the said interview.
DG: Good evening, Ken.
Kuranchie: Good evening, my brother.
DG: How are you and the family doing?
Kuranchie: As you can see, we are all doing well.
DG: Can you walk us through your journey to prison and back?
Kuranchie: A few days before, I had received a verbal invitation, so I realized anything was possible; so it was better to prepare mentally for whatever was going to happen… so I drove to the office to do a little preparation for the possibility that I might be away. I spoke to some members of my staff in senior capacity about how to handle the paper in my absence and certain financial situations and then I left my car and joined my lawyer to court.
The big deal
DG: How did you feel in the courtroom when you were called?
Kuranchie: I can never state in all sincerity that I was not a little nervous; but I went to the court very calm. .. All morning, I met quite a few people; NPP people and other people in the court room, everybody kept on debating. There was a lot of advice; ‘apologise’, ‘don’t apologise’; ‘do that’, ‘don’t do that’…
DG: Which of the options did you choose among the advices that you were given?
Kuranchie: You see my lawyers; Yaw Owusu Addo, a former journalist, I had Mr Kofi Boakye and Atta Akyea; we were divided as to the way forward but we kept on looking at options because these things were technical…we did not know exactly the nature of the offence the person has committed. In jurisprudence, you have to know the offence you have committed stated in clear black and white, and then know what your defence is, but this was not the case.
DG: When the case was called, what came to you?
Kuranchie: First and foremost, I sat through the virtual annihilation of Mr Atubiga who had apologized to the court; somebody is accused of an offence and he immediately pleads guilty…and their lordships begin to lay into him…and I said but he was on the ground begging for reprieve and exclaiming he was sorry and begging and pushing himself onto the ground and you still kept laying into him…
DG: At that moment, what was going through your head?
Kuranchie: That I won’t go through that process… I had come to the court personally that I believed in what I had written; I was there with a defence ready for what I had written but their treatment of Atubiga solidified me in my feeling that I won’t go through that process.
DG: So what happened when you were called?
Kuranchie: We had a game-plan; the lawyer was supposed to take over and raise certain issues and it is necessary they overcome him then I take over but you could see clearly that they were not prepared to accede to the interventions of my counsel and for me, that is why I have a problem when a lot of people blame my three lawyers…they were prepared to the best of their capacity to do certain things but somebody had apologized and somebody never committed the offence…I think that people ought to be allowed to speak their minds even if when you are guilty…
I had just started making my defence when one of the their lordships, I think Mr Sule Gbadegbe answered to the issue …clearly what they wanted was an apology and clearly I thought I had done nothing, wrong so I took a middle ground because you cannot also become so intransigent; if you feel I’ve done something wrong…then I apologise for that.
DG: Were you gripped by fear at the time when there was that banter between you and them?
Kuranchie: Absolutely not! And I’m hoping there will never be a day when fear becomes a deciding factor or a factor when you have to appear before a court of law; before any group of men or before any group of women or a combination of both when a decision has to be made on a rational basis. Respect, yes, appreciation, yes but not fear; why should I be afraid?
DG: When they retired you into the chamber, what was running through your mind?
Kuranchie: I had remained calm and cheerful right up to when the decision was announced… I thought it would have been very healthy for this country. I had hoped that I would have been allowed greater time and space to express my whole defence but I was denied that.
DG: When they came back and they were about to hand down whatever they had to say, how did you feel at that psychological moment?
Kuranchie: As I told you; I had prepared in the morning that the possibility of being sentenced to go and spend time in jail was possible; I’d prepared myself mentally for it.
DG: When the judgment was finally read what came to you?
Kuranchie: I was not stunned but I felt that was not a very good day for this country. You begin to worry when people begin to experience jail time over opinions; that is a very wild step to take. I thought our country had far outstripped those nations when it comes to the respect of human rights, respect for freedom of speech, among others.
DG: You think you were not fairly treated?
Kuranchie: I think that this whole process ought to be re-examined because this is the Supreme Court of this country; their rulings become precedent. Now, they have invited me; the person who accused me before their lordships as I sit here today. I’ve suffered 10-days of jail and I don’t know who accused me. I don’t know who sent this case to court.
DG: Are you traumatized by that?
Kuranchie: …Since I came out, I’ve been making this point over and over again that I could have avoided this whole process just by ignoring the comment by Justice Atuguba and hiding under my pavement here and like a lot of people are doing not caring. But if you care, then you should pay the price; if you care enough to have an opinion on anything, then you should be able to live with the consequences of having the opinion. So the only pain I feel is that I was forced to abandon the protection and the love of my family for some days.
DG: Then came the time when you were handcuffed and whisked away into a waiting vehicle; what was running through your mind?
Kuranchie: Big deal!
DG: Was it a big deal for you?
Kuranchie: No, big deal; what has happened. A lot of people are handcuffed and taken into waiting vehicles. Atubiga and I had not committed what you would describe as any felony in my opinion…they could have just walked us to the vehicle; I don’t think Atubiga was going to run away or I was going to run away but they put us in handcuffs. Maybe that’s part of their procedure.
DG: Were you in cuffs in the vehicle?
Kuranchie: We were in cuffs right up to Nsawam.
DG: In the vehicle, were you having conversations with Atubiga?
Kuranchie: We were having conversations.
DG: What kind of conversations were you having?
Kuranchie: Atubiga was worried about his political career; you know he wants to be an MP and I told him that the Constitution really should be proud of him so I don’t think he should be worried about any future Parliamentary aspirations
DG: Was it a hearty conversation you guys were having?
Kuranchie: We were friends before that day and think we still remain friends; we conversed with the policemen.
DG: Were they friendly; I mean the policemen?
Kuranchie: Very friendly. In fact, I happen to know one; there was a chase-car behind us. When we got to Nsawam, I realized that the commander in charge of that platoon was a personal friend.
DG: Who is this commander?
Kuranchie: I cannot tell you his name.
Life in prison
DG: Okay, then you got to Nsawam; were you panic-stricken?
Kuranchie: As I told you, I had prepared myself mentally; I must tell you that when we got to Nsawam, the reception was extremely cordial.
DG: From the officers or the inmates?
Kuranchie: From the officers; the first point of contact were the prison wardens, they were extremely cordial…the prison officers invited me to have a seat; so I sat in the wooden chair and it nearly collapsed.
DG: Did they manhandle you?
Kuranchie: No! Not at all.
DG: When you went to your cell; did you sleep well?
DG: What time did you wake up?
Kuranchie: There was banging at our door. I then woke up, shook up and then I heard my name being called. They asked me to dress up…
DG: Was it one that put fear in you?
Kuranchie: No! At that point I had no fear in me.
DG: What time was this?
Kuranchie: I learnt it was about 2:30am, but I didn’t know because I had no watch on me; so I immediately hurried to put on my socks, my shoes and dressed up. I was dressed again like I was dressed in court…and I went out and I was told that the 2IC wanted to see me. When we went, there was a storey building so he (warden) climbed the stirs with me and said they wanted to find me a better place to sleep. I thought sincerely that I was being taken to a new bedroom or a new cell but that was not what it was…and then when we got to the main gate, he said ‘check him out’. So they started preparing me then I realized there was a vehicle parked with very heavily armed men; wardens.
DG: How many were they?
Kuranchie: There were a lot of men at that point but I got into the car with four of them.
DG: Did you ask where you were being taken to?
Kuranchie: I did not ask but I made a request for a call to be made to my wife that I was being moved and they said no; they put me in the Mahindra pick-up and out of Nsawam Prisons but barely less than 50 metres later, they parked off the road and the leader started making calls…he came to sit down and said let’s go and then they drove. Then we started coming towards Accra, then we started heading towards the Tema motorway, we passed the motorway and we were headed towards the Volta Region and I said wow! to myself and thought it could be Akuse.
DG: All this while were you having a conversation with them?
Kuranchie: No, no, no because what came to my mind was that what I had prepared myself for 10-days of jail time; somebody had decided that, that is not going to be comfortable 10-days for me…so if you have decided that this was what you were going through then prepare for something worse. So I kept quiet; it was cold and it was late. The whole town was quiet…
They got to some town, they parked; there were vehicles blinking lights in the dark, I think they had a rendezvous with those guys. They went out there and spoke to them; there was a lot of discussions and then we started moving again. This time, we moved ahead and the second car that had thrown the light was behind us…we arrived at the venue and the language had changed and I made enquiries.
DG: What language?
Kuranchie: They were speaking Ewe; I asked one of the wardens where we were and they said we are at the Ho Central Prison and I said wow and they told me to have a seat… It was around 6am, they took me upstairs and I gave them the same assurance I gave to the authorities at Nsawam that I was strong in my mind that I was not going to be a problem for the authorities there.
DG: Was it demanded of you to make such commitment?
Kuranchie: No! sometimes you can go through prison the hard way or the soft way; it is better to assure the people who are in charge of you that you don’t intend to be trouble…I had encountered the entire Supreme Court of this country and spoken my mind; that gives you an impression of a truculent, hard-headed, intransigent character who is prepared to challenge the system and fight and fight and fight. I wanted to straightaway dissuade them from that impression that I was out there some type of rebel who was just here to fight the system…
DG: How were you treated in there?
Kuranchie: I have decided to adopt the Volta Region as my home or one of my homes; the reason is that these people clearly belonged to another tribe other than myself, clearly also had different sets of politics other than myself but clearly saw me as a fellow traveller and a fellow prisoner who deserved to be assisted; they were extremely kind, I mean the prisoners.
DG: Where; the region or the prison?
Kuranchie: No! The prison; the Ho Prison is extremely dehumanizing.
DG: Why do you say so?
Kuranchie: No human being should be allowed to live in those conditions even when you cannot afford it.
DG: What was there?
Kuranchie: My room was the room of the black coat; when they say the black coat, in Nsawam they call that person the national leader; it’s the room of the head prisoner. ..They were 19 people in the room.
DG: Then that’s supposed to be a privileged room.
Kuranchie: That’s supposed to be the privileged room; wonderful word, privileged room.
DG: And yet it was deplorable?
Kuranchie: It was a 12×12 cell with a toilet in it; stinking.
DG: How long were you at the Ho Prison?
Kuranchie: I think I spent two nights there.
DG: What time were you moved from the Ho Prison?
Kuranchie: There is an incident that has become very relevant in Ho; when we got there, I realized that everybody inside was wearing civilian cloths so I also had a pair of shorts and t-shirts, then I had been supplied those things…the next day; Thursday, I was reading a book and one of the prison wardens came and said I was wanted at the reception around 10am…So they came to call me. Even before then, the Wednesday; there had been a similar invitation and these people introduced themselves as policemen sent by Commissioner of Police Agblor, Director in Charge Police CID. What was their mission; they wanted to take my five finger prints and put it in some criminal database because I was a felon.
And I said a felon because I spoke my mind and disagreed on an issue, so the court classifies me as a felon comparable to rapist and armed robbers. The name on their invitation was wrong and then I asked them who empowered them to come for my finger prints as a felon. I told them that even if they showed me the law, I would insist on a court order. So they drove back to Accra and that was the end of that.
The next day, I had a similar call and when I went, I met one gentleman called ‘Horror’. He asked me to wear a blue-blue shirt that he had. So I wore them. I asked him why I should be wearing something different from the others when everybody was in civilian cloth. He told me it was an order from above. I had already made the promise of going to put a good conduct there no matter what, so I obliged. I put the shorts on although they were too tight on me. I complained to him but they were going to tear, but he insisted I wore them.
There was even a lady warden who even sympathised with me because what I was almost looked like bursting if I moved. Others who were around also felt the same way, and this stirred up a little debate there. A short while later, that same person that asked me to come back, came with a camera to take pictures of me in the prison cloths. I asked them if it was a normal procedure carried in the prison. They answered in the affirmative, but had I to argue with them. I was then told to go and see the commanding officer. He explained in very calm language that normally when they get prisoners, they take pictures of them database purposes. The irony of the whole thing is that, there was no single computer in the office. Then one gentleman by name Corporal Garnyo took several photographs of me, whilst I stood by a wall in the blue-blue shirt.
DG: Were you worried?
Kuranchie: You see, I was surprised because I’ve not heard of this picture-taking and the malice of that whole exercise has been exposed by the appearance of the pictures all over the place.
DG: Is it the same picture that was in the social media that we also got and used?
Kuranchie: Yes, the pictures they took of me in the blue-blue they forced me to wear got circulated on social media. That photo was taken by corporal Garnyo in the office and in the presence of the Regional Prisons Director…and the next thing I know it was on social media. When we came down, the same set of men who had taken me to Ho were there and they said I should go and pack my things. Whilst we were going, I packed a few of my clothings that I had washed previously along. At some point, some they got down and took a leak (urinate), however, I refused to take all those offers because you see, if you get out to go out to urinate, the excuse can be made that you want to run away, so at all points on the journey from Ho to Kete-, I made up my mind I not to take a leak…
The Kete-Krachi Experience
DG: So you got to Kete-Krachi and what happened?
Kuranchie: I had no idea where we had arrived; at a point I thought we had arrived in the Northern Region because they took extreme care not to give any communication that will suggest where they were going…so we arrived and again I asked from a local warden which prison we had arrived at and he said Kete-Krachi. I asked them if I could get a telephone to call my wife; they said no, go to sleep…and the wardens there I must thank them again, they went out and bought me Lucozade, malt, bread with their own money.
DG: They were very kind?
Kuranchie: Very kind but they denied me the telephone and sent me to sleep. Wonderful prisoners; they also gave me a bed, a place to sleep, water to wash down; did the necessary things a man must do and then I had malt and a little bread and I went to sleep.
DG: So how long did you spend there?
Kuranchie: I was there overnight…the next morning I heard some NPP activists had come so I was invited there; they had brought bread and eggs; this infamous eggs…what I decided to do was to share my food with everybody because I realized the local fare was terrible so I did it at Ho, I did it at Kete-Krachi and I did it at Nsawam…
I was relaxing and then I got a call that I should come. When I went, they asked me to go and pack. I asked if I could wear my prison attire? They replied in the negative, so I obeyed and we went into the car again. So I asked him if I would be able to leave the corridors of the prison eventually if I don’t die. Now I wanted to know from them if their conduct was absolutely legal; shifting a man from one prison to another because I was tired of travelling from Accra to Nsawam, Nsawam to Ho to Kete-Krachi…I understand he is the Head of Operations of Prisons Service…
They also tried to take my finger prints.
DG: What happened next?
Kuranchie: They handed me back to the same cell leader; a nice man, he is called Yaw Acheampong. He is serving 40years for a crime I believe he did not commit…I had the privilege of looking at his court proceedings and clearly the gentleman who sentenced him to jail should not have done so…I came in close contact with Charles Quansah, the Exopa man; Ibrahim Sima; that’s another man I think is innocent.
DG: Is it because they are reformed?
Kuranchie: No! I had hours of interviews with Exopa; I had the opportunity of looking at his proceedings. Most of these guys have their proceedings with them…I met a lot of famous people at Nsawam and spoke to a lot of them at length…
The Last Deal
DG: Then the day came; you were supposed to be freed, what happened?
Kuranchie: I had been informed that I would leave at 9am…but at exactly 4:25am they started banging at my door; they called for me, I should get up and dress and I said dress for what…they say they were discharging me…I confronted the OIC that I really was opposed to what he was doing. But he said he was acting under clear instructions.
DG: Did he tell you who was putting this pressure on him?
Kuranchie: The Director-General of Prisons, because I spoke with her myself.
Normally , they were supposed to just leave me at the gate and my family would pick me up or I go for my own means of transportation, but this gentleman offered me the unusual privilege of driving me out of prison; the whole commander of Nsawam Prison…
DG: And what did you say?
Kuranchie: …We should just go its 6’oclock; so we set off, and I heard a siren wailing behind us. I told him to drop me off at Lapaz because I had been freed. But they said no, no, no. So I resisted and they called the Director-General of Prisons… She also insisted then they brought me to the Prisons Service headquarters.
DG: What time did you get to the office?
Kuranchie: About 7am; they asked a lady they saw there whether she knew me and she said I was her father and I owed the company so they took her name and telephone number to show that they have handed me over to my cleaner alive and well.
DG: How did the news of you having been dumped at your office go viral?
Kuranchie: I collected my cleaner’s phone and made a few calls to my wife and some family members so the information got out.
DG: How do you feel now as you have regained your freedom?
Kuranchie: I’ve remained very calm about this process; it is part of life. In fact, as I sit here with you apart from the joy of being back with my family, I feel very little different. It’s good to be ; I was welcomed properly home (bursted into uncontrollable laughter).
DG: Ken, we’ve been talking for the past 1hour and 2minutes; I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity.
Kuranchie: Thank you, Mr Takyi-Boadu.
|Source: Charles Takyi-Boadu/D-Guide
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