To ensure a peaceful election, the Ghana Police Service is weighing up plans to ban access to social media platforms on Election Day.
Although the security agency has not been straight forward in declaring the action, the move has received major backlash from the populace.
The Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) has implored the GPS and the IGP to consider a more democratic and progressive ways of achieving election security rather than planning to ban access to social media on Election Day.
In a statement signed by the Deputy Director of CDD-Ghana, Dr. Franklin Oduro, he stated that carrying out such a move “would constitute an unprecedented violation of provisions of the 1992 Constitution guaranteeing free expression.”
Full Statement Below
Last week, the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), John Kudalor, declared that the Ghana Police Service (GPS) was considering a ban on access to social media platforms during the 2016 general elections. This intent, according to the IGP, is part of the Police Administration's plans to ensure peace during the election period.
The Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) joins others in registering our strong and unqualified opposition to any such move.
Freedom of expression is the bedrock of a thriving democracy. It is extremely worrying for a state institution charged with the core responsibility of ensuring the safety of citizens to be considering such an undemocratic move as shutting down the social media.
Whatever the rationale, such a sweeping move would constitute an unprecedented violation of provisions of the 1992 Constitution guaranteeing free expression. It would be a retrogressive step in a democracy on any day – and especially on the day citizens are choosing their government.
This disclosure by the GPS, barely five months from the general elections, represents an extremely worrying trend, coming on the back of the recent attempts by the state to force through the passage of the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunication Bill, 2016.
(A bill, which seeks to grant the security agencies unfettered powers to interfere with the personal communication of Ghanaians) and the attempt by the National Media Commission (NMC) to introduce a new law
requiring media owners to seek content approval from the Commission before publication.
We also find it alarming that a senior government official is proposing to emulate the example of Uganda, where a distinctly autocratic regime has recently used media repression to secure election victory. CDD-Ghana recognizes that the environment ahead of the 2016 polls is tense.
However, the IGP’s remarks lead the Center to wonder if the IGP and the GPS know something more than the public knows about the state of national security. That is to say, we have to wonder if Ghana is faced with such dire national security threat for the IGP to be contemplating such a radical and anti-democratic move.
Even so, the Center would implore the GPS and the IGP to consider more democratic and progressive ways of achieving election security. The Center also accepts that the IGP may have legitimate concerns about national
security in the context of the impending 2016 polls, something we all care about. We further concede that, like any other technological tool, the social media can be used in an abusive manner - a challenge faced by many modern societies.
However, we are also convinced that handled in the right way, the social media can be extremely beneficial to election security. Indeed, the Ghana Police has used FACEBOOK and WhatsApp to good effect to educate citizens and to receive reports on election incidents in the past.
Similarly, the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO) and other election watchdog groups have used the same tools to disseminate information from the police to the public and to share information on violent incidents with the police.
The thought of blocking them out would not only amount to the suppression of the fundamental right to freedom of expression and speech, but it would also undermine the country’s democracy in general and the credibility of the 2016 polls in particular.
CDD-Ghana advises the IGP, the GPS and other security agencies to eschew any thought of clamping down on media freedoms and free speech in Ghana, and rather channel their energies into searching for credible and democratically acceptable means of strengthening national security.
Among other things, we recommend that the IGP/GPS elicits the help of experts to deal with abuses, intensify public education on security issues related to elections and work with relevant stakeholders to ensure that it is free of violence.
Dated: 30th May, 2016
Dr. Franklin Oduro, Deputy Director
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