VISIT OF PRESIDENT JJ RAWLINGS - SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT SHOULD URGE HUMAN RIGHTS REFORMS

Although the return to constitutional rule in Ghana in 1993 has substantially increased freedom of expression and association, allowing the development of independent news media and political opposition , the imposition of the death penalty in political cases and the imprisonment of journalists remain serious concerns.

Geoff Pope of Amnesty International Scotland said: 'On his visit to Scotland, we will be urging President Rawlings to secure a future for Ghana in which freedom of expression is respected and the threat of the death penalty is finally removed.'

Although no executions are known to have been carried out since 1993, the death penalty continues to be handed down, mostly in murder cases but also following treason convictions for alleged coup-plotting. Last year four people were sentenced to death for treason. As many as 180 prisoners may remain under sentence of death. Dozens of death sentences were carried out under military rule in the 1980s, including several following unfair political trials.

In recent years, the government's sensitivity to criticism has been reflected in prosecutions and arrests of journalists for alleged defamation of government officials and associates.

Ebenezer Quarcoo, former editor of the Free Press newspaper, was sentenced to 90 days in prison with hard labour and a fine in November 1999. He was released in December after the fine was paid. He was convicted of intentionally libelling Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, wife of President Rawlings, in an article published in December 1994.

There have also been reports of unlawful detention and assault by members of the armed forces. In August 2000 a middle-aged couple, Anthony Kofi Mensah Djentuh and Maria O'Sullivan-Djentuh, were imprisoned for two weeks for publicly defending the human rights of their son. He was among a number of people reported to have been detained and assaulted in recent months by soldiers.

Background President (formerly Flight-Lieutenant) JJ Rawlings first came to power briefly following a military coup in 1979 and again in a coup in 1981, before being elected President in 1992. Ghana returned to civilian rule in January 1993 and President Rawlings was re-elected in 1996 to serve a final term of office.

During the 1980s hundreds of prisoners of conscience were detained, sometimes for lengthy periods. The present government has come under pressure to investigate suspected political killings and other human rights violations committed under military rule. However, the 1992 Constitution contains immunity provisions prohibiting legal action against officials of previous military governments, and there continues to be little accountability for human rights violations by the security forces.

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