Ghana eliminates criminal libel

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afrol News, 20 June - Reports that Ghana has begun the process to wipe criminal libel from the statute books were today warmly welcomed by human rights organisations. Ghana has thus taken the lead on libel reform in Africa, important for freedom of expression.

The Attorney-General and Minister of Justice in Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, had confirmed reports that the process to expunge criminal libel from the statute books has begun, the West African Journalists Association (WAJA) yesterday confirmed. "The repeal of the law on seditious libel is part of the package."

Article 19, a London-based organisation campaigning for the freedom of expression, today welcomed the development in Ghana. "The repeal of criminal libel law puts Ghana at the forefront of African countries when it comes to meeting international standards on free expression," said John Barker of Article 19. "The Government of Ghana is to be congratulated on taking this important step."

Repeal of the law on seditious was a campaign promise of the new Ghanaian government of President John Kufuor. The former government of President Jerry John Rawlings was adamant in its insistence to keep the law, also during the December 2000 electoral campaign. Rawlings' "government used the current law to harass a number of journalists in the past," according to WAJA. 

There has been some campaigning against the widespread use of libel laws, especially in Africa, over the last years. The UN human rights agency and its Rapporteurs have noted that many African countries often and systematically used their libel law to undermine freedom of expression.

In November 2000, the Special Rapporteurs of the UN, the OSCE and the OAS recommended that all countries should review their defamation laws in order to ensure that they do not restrict the right to freedom of expression and to bring them into line with their international obligations. Among their recommendations were that: 

  • the repeal of criminal defamation laws in favour of civil laws should be considered, in accordance with relevant international standards; 
  • the plaintiff should bear the burden of proving the falsity of any statements of fact on matters of public concern;  no one should be liable under defamation law for the expression of an opinion; 
  • it should be a defence, in relation to a statement on a matter of public concern, to show that publication was reasonable in all the circumstances; and
  • civil sanctions for defamation should not be so large as to exert a chilling effect on freedom of expression and should be designed to restore the reputation harmed, not to compensate the plaintiff or to punish the defendant; in particular, pecuniary awards should be strictly proportionate to the actual harm caused and the law should prioritise the use of a range of non-pecuniary remedies.

Sources: Based on WAJA and Article 19 Texts and graphics may be reproduced freely, under the condition that their origin is clearly referred to, see Conditions.

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