Despite Ghana’s position as the country with the most press freedom in Africa, 2019’s first recorded death of a journalist happened in Accra in mid-January
Journalist Ahmed Hussein-Suale Divela died in Accra on January 16 when two men on a motorbike fatally shot him as he was driving in the Madina district of the Ghanaian capital. The pair escaped into traffic.
Divela was the first confirmed journalist to be killed in 2019, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, (CPJ) an independent nonprofit that promotes press freedom worldwide.
Divela was an investigative journalist working for Tiger Eye Private Investigations at the time of his death. Tiger Eye PI is led by Anas Aremeyaw Anas, an undercover investigative journalist who focuses on human rights abuse and corruption in sub-Saharan Africa.
Divela collaborated with Anas in making the documentary “Betraying the Game,” which saw close to 100 West African match officials and administrators come under scrutiny for bribery. Released in June last year, the documentary led Fifa to issue a lifetime ban to Ghana Football Association head Kwesi Nyantakyi for his involvement in bribery.
According to Sammy Darko, a lawyer for Tiger Eye PI, witnesses saw two men waiting for hours in Madina before following Divela into the traffic, firing three shots at him. He was reportedly on his way home after receiving news that his child was sick.
The CPJ said Divela had told the committee in September last year that he feared for his life after politician Kennedy Agyapong appeared on television, threatening Divela and encouraging violence against him after his coverage of corruption in Ghanaian soccer.
Anas posted a video of a threat made against Divela’s life by Agyapong. In the translated recording, Agyapong says: “I’m telling you, beat him,” on television, while an image of Divela’s face featured on the screen. “Whatever happens, I’ll pay. Because he’s bad. That Ahmed.”
“Since my image was published and [the] public was incited against me […] many people have attempted [to attack me],” Divela told CPJ via WhatsApp.
For a country which prides itself on press freedom, Divela’s murder came as a shock. Ghana sits at number 23 out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index, making it home to Africa’s most free press, ranking five places ahead of South Africa.
Reporters without Borders, an NGO specialising in the defence of media freedom, reports that Ghanaian journalists are rarely arrested or imprisoned, as Ghana’s constitution guarantees media pluralism and independence.
Threats to press freedom are not uncommon in other parts of Africa where media is restricted or censored. Earlier this month, a journalist and an editor were detained in Nigeria after their newspaper, Daily Trust published information that the military deemed confidential. Their offices were raided by the security officials, and electronics were confiscated. Editor Uthman Abubakar was released after three days, while reporter Ibrahim Sawab was released two days before.
Threats to press freedom in 2018
Internationally there are currently 60 journalists who have been reported missing. In 2018, 55 journalists were killed while on the job, according to CPJ and Reporters without Borders.
As of December 1 2018, CPJ reported that there were 251 imprisoned journalists across the world. For the third year in a row, over half of them were imprisoned in Turkey, China and Egypt. Of the 251 journalists, 28 were arrested on charges of “false news” in 2018, three times more than in 2016.
In October 2018, Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi for the Washington Post, was assassinated at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. Khashoggi was openly critical of the Saudi government, and in particular was critical of Saudi crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman.
In Myanmar, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been detained for over a year for reporting on the killing of 10 Rohingya men in 2017. The pair were sentenced to seven years in prison in 2018 despite several appeals and international pressure to release them.
In November last year, Angela Quintal— a South African journalist and former editor of the Mail & Guardian — along with her Kenyan colleague Muthoki Mumo were detained while on assignment for CPJ in Tanzania. Quintal and Mumo were taken from their hotel room in Dar es Salaam and detained by security officials for allegedly not declaring the purpose of their visit upon arrival in the country. They were later released following a massive outcry and the intervention of the South African government.
Jamal Khashoggi, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, along with Filipina journalist Maria Ressa and the staff of the Capital Gazette group were all named Time magazine’s “Person of the Year,” with Time calling them “The Guardians of Truth.”