afrol News, 1 August - On Friday 27 July 2001, Ghana's parliament unanimously repealed the Criminal Libel and Seditious Laws, which had been used to incarcerate a number of journalists in the past, according to the West African Journalists Association (WAJA).
The repeal follows the passage of the Criminal Code (Repeal of the Criminal and Seditious Laws - Amendment Bill) Act 2001 by a unanimous vote in the House. With the amendment, any person accused of committing an offence under the repealed sections will be discharged with all proceedings before the courts on the same sections ceasing, WAJA reports.
Under the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, the president has seven days to either assent or reject the bill, but from previous utterances and actions of the government, it appears the old law has been scrapped.
The new government in Accra had promised before the general elections of December 2000 that it would repeal the law to allow for greater freedom in the country. This pledge was reaffirmed on 7 January when President John Agyekum Kuffuor was sworn into office, during which he said that the Criminal Libel Law would be "amended to expand the boundaries of freedom."
The last stage of the debate on the bill was marked by a rare agreement in parliament on issues that affect the media, according to WAJA.
In presenting the memorandum on the bill in parliament, Attorney General Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo said, "the purpose of the bill is to fulfil the promise of repeal and thereby demonstrate the government's determination to make good its promise to the nation."
In comments made after the passage of the bill, the president of the Ghana Journalists Association, Gifty Affenyi-Dadzie, commended the government for repealing the law. She also thanked both sides of the parliamentary divide for the repeal since the old law "was inconsistent" with the 1992 Constitution.
The process to wipe criminal libel from the statute books was earlier warmly welcomed by human rights organisations. Ghana has thus taken the lead on libel reform in Africa, important for freedom of expression, according to human rights activists.
Article 19, a London-based organisation campaigning for the freedom of expression, in June welcomed this development. "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.