Updated: Jan 12, 2021
FREEDOM OF THE PRESS: THE KILLING OF A GHANAIAN JOURNALIST
Press freedom is a precious commodity everywhere on earth. On January 16, 2019, two men on a motorbike pulled up beside a young Ghanaian reporter, Ahmed Hussein-Suale, in his car and shot him three times at close range. Ahmed died on the spot. He is the first known journalist in the world to be murdered in 2019.
Ahmed worked diligently with the worldwide-known investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, who famously never reveals his face behind the iconic “curtain” he wears, and whose axiom is “Name, Shame, and Jail.” Ahmed was a major contributor to Anas’s exposé (in collaboration with the BBC) on corruption in the soccer world, which showed a number of high-profile Ghanaian referees and one FIFA official accepting thousands of dollars in return for match-fixing. Anas’s company, Tiger Eye PI, has exposed widespread corruption among the Ghanaian judiciary including the High Court, and has blown a number of social and political scandals wide open. President Barack Obama recognized Anas for his courageous work.
Anas Aremeyaw Anas
Anas is the also the sort of person people hate. Kennedy Agyapong, a controversial and particularly odious minister of Ghana’s parliament, is one of Anas’s arch-enemies. Kennedy called the journalist “a blackmailer, an extortionist.” Kennedy reportedly also mimed Anas’s throat being cut and said Anas should be “hanged.” Prior to Ahmed’s death, Kennedy had mounted a relentless, foul-mouthed tirade against the young reporter on TV, radio, and social media. Kennedy, reputed to be one of Ghana’s richest people, owns a radio and TV station, which he used as a platform to demonize Ahmed. On a TV program, Kennedy showed two pictures of Ahmed, call him a “bad boy,” revealed where Ahmed lived, and encouraged people to beat him up if they saw him on the street.
The United States Embassy in Accra (Ghana’s capital) has denounced the murder, calling for a thorough investigation and stating, “This was not only an attack on Suale, but on Ghana’s climate of transparency, democratic credibility, and press freedom.” According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Ghana ranked first in Africa and 23rd in the world with a 2018 World Press Freedom Index of 18.4, which is above France (Index 21.9), the UK (Index 23.3), and the USA (Index 23.7). Imprisonment of reporters in Ghana is very rare, which makes the murder of one very serious.
Why is the contract-like killing of Ahmed in “remote” Ghana so important? Because an attack on a journalist anywhere should alarm journalists everywhere. According to RSF, a total of 80 journalists worldwide were killed in 2018, up from 2017. The United States is on the list for the first time because of the shooting of four journalists at the Capital Gazette. (Two other journalists were killed elsewhere in the United States in unrelated events.) We think of the violent murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi Arabian Washington Post columnist who steadfastly criticized the Saudi government and advocated for Saudi women’s rights. Time magazine named a group of journalists, including the murdered Jamal Khashoggi, as its person of the year for 2018, “honoring their dedicated pursuit of the truth despite a war on facts and tremendous obstacles, including violence and imprisonment.”
Kennedy Agyapong’s chilling appearance on Ghanaian TV in which he “outed” Suale and encouraged people in his neighborhood to beat him up is as dangerous as it is boorish. But let’s not forget that Donald J. Trump, who has an obsession with undermining members of the media, condoned violence perpetrated on a reporter.
In the fall of 2018, the very targets of Donald Trump’s incendiary attacks became bomb targets, including CNN, which Trump says is another “fake news” outlet.
The assassination of Ahmed Hussein-Suale reminds us that inciting words against the press by a public figure can set a tone in which violence against members of the press is tolerated. This is a reality all over the world. Journalism must not die, and journalists must have the freedom to continue telling the truth.
The notion of fact being stranger than fiction, or “art imitating life,” can be clichéd, but it does seem to happen to me and my writing quite a bit. Long before the tragedy of Ahmed occurred, I had completed the second draft of my upcoming novel (THE MISSING AMERICAN, 2020) in which an investigative journalist based on Anas (I spelled it backward: “Sana”) barely escapes assassination. Indeed, the real Anas has had so many death threats, it’s hard to keep up. The attack on journalism in a novel is all very well, but in real life it is ominous.