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Human Rights, Individual Freedoms and Democracy in Ghana- The Preventive Detention Act and After - Treatment of Political Detainees

Treatment of Political Detainees

Detainees under the Preventive Detention Act were subjected to the most cruel and inhumane treatments. They were worse than common criminals. After all, the common criminals were not perceived as scheming to wrestle political power from Kwame Nkrumah, the self-styled “Osagyefo.”

Apart from official orders, the prison and security officers were afraid of the consequences to them if any detainee were to escape. Therefore, they kept the detainees under the most stringent conditions. In most cases, they were not allowed time outside their cells and they were not allowed to mix with convict prisoners. The rations were poor, and Nkrumah later ordered that they should even be worse.

Most detainees were denied medical attention. They were expected to die from whatever malady afflicted them in detention without trial. If one died it was good riddance for the Osagyefo. Therefore, with time, the Ghanaian doctors were replaced with Soviet communist and Cuban doctors, and doctors who had worked for Adolf Hitler at Jewish Concentration Camps These foreign doctors received specific orders on the treatment of the detainees under the Preventive Detention Act. As would be expected for persons held without trial in such horrendous conditions, many died of both illness and neglect. Many suffered irreversible damage to their health before their release after the 1966 coup d’etat. As for Kwame Nkrumah, he could not understand what it meant to release a prisoner, even a prisoner held without trial, on compassionate or health grounds. Even when Dr. J.B. Danquah was on the verge of death in his condemned prisoner’s cell, Nkrumah rejected all appeals to him personally to spare the life of the old man.

I have myself been a victim of detention by Kwame Nkrumah. However, it is not my intention to recount my own experiences here. That is a personal matter and I am not speaking to that today.

It is indeed nauseating and repulsive to conscience to relate the cruel and inhumane conditions under which detainees imprisoned without trial were held in prisons in Nkrumah’s Independent Ghana. There are many credible accounts of sadism and cruelty under Kwame Nkrumah. However, I would refer only to the documented case of Dr. J.B. Danquah. According to Mr. J.W.K. Harlley, the then Head of the Special Branch of the Ghana Police Service, after Dr. Danquah’s release from the first detention in 1962, there was a function at which Nkrumah saw Dr. Danquah by a chance. Kwame Nkrumah expressed his disgust to the senior Police Officer that Dr. Danquah looked too well. He expected Dr. Danquah to look and be emaciated. Nkrumah interpreted Dr. Danquah’s relatively decent appearance to mean that the prison officers had been too kind to him. Nkrumah, therefore, gave orders for the conditions of detention under the Preventive Detention Act to be made harsher than before.

To this end, Nkrumah convened a hasty meeting at the Flagstaff House, which was attended by Mr. Harlley; Mr. E. R.T. Madjitey, who was the Head of the Police Service (known then as the Commissioner of Police); Minister of the Interior, Mr. Kwaku Boateng; Mr. Moses, the Director of Prisons; and Mr. Abban, the Deputy Director of Prisons. Instructions were then given that all detainees under the Preventive Detention Act were to be fed only on garri, salt and water. A Confidential letter, numbered SCR.950/1 and dated 8th August, 1962, from the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of the Interior to the Director of Prisons, stated:

“I am directed by the Minister to inform you that with immediate effect all Detainees should be placed on the same prison diet as convict prisoners. The supply of eggs, milk, etc., to certain detainees on the orders of the Prison Medical Officer should cease forthwith. This cancels all previous instructions regarding the diet of detainees.”

At the same time the Prison Medical Officers were replaced with foreign doctors. For instance, Dr Schumann, a Nazi Concentration Camp doctor who had been accused of murdering over 20,000 Jews, was among the foreign doctors thereafter supervising the health of prisoners in detention in Ghana’s prisons.

Another meeting was held on 29th August, 1962, after Nkrumah’s henchmen, including Messrs. Tawia Adamafio, Ako Adjei and H.H. Cofie-Crabbe, were detained on suspicion of complicity in the Kulungugu bomb attack on the President. It was reiterated that the detainees were to be fed on only garri and water. Therefore, another letter was written to the Director of Prisons on 24th September, 1962, to re-affirm the order to feed the detainees on only garri and water. As this was not explicit, the Director of Prisons wrote a Confidential letter to the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of the Interior for clarification and confirmation. That letter of 28th September, 1962, said:

“On the 24th September, 1962, the Deputy Director of Prisons and I were ushered before Osagyefo the President by the Minister and the outcome were three decisions, namely, that the Detainees should be served with only Garri and Water, discipline should be exercised more firmly, and the Visiting Committees abolished. But your letter No. SCR. 1581 dated 25th September, 1962, confirmed only the case of the Visiting Committees. I should be grateful if you will confirm that the decision regarding the ration should be suspended.”

The order on the ration, that is to give only garri and water to the detainees, was confirmed. This would not apply to common criminals like armed robbers, thieves and rapists, because they posed no direct political threat to the “Osagyefo.”

The reason for the abolition of the Prison Visiting Committees is obvious. It was to ensure that the inhuman conditions of imprisonment of detainees would remain unknown to Ghanaians and the world.

Some of those entrusted with the imprisonment of Dr Danquah without trial, and who were under instructions to torture him, have spoken about his ill-treatment at the Nsawam Prison. According to the Prison Commission which enquired into the treatment of detainees, Dr. Danquah was:

“lodged in the Condemned Section (Special Block) in cell No. 9...The cell is approximately 9 feet by 6 in area…The cell contained no bed or other furniture other than a chamber pot.”

There was an order that for the first several months of detention, the detainees in the Condemned Cells like Dr Danquah “were not allowed to stand up in their cells, having to lie down or sit on the floor.” They said:

“The life of Dr. Danquah in the cells was regulated as that of a condemned prisoner awaiting execution. Indeed, in some respects, his treatment was more rigid and circumscribed.”

The full report of the Prison Commission is available. Extracts from the Report should be read in our educational institutions, so that those who advocate the return to Nkrumah’s days can explain the findings to Ghanaians. This is important because the truth about Dr. J.B. Danquah has been suppressed for too long. Those who loudly paint the rosy picture of the Nkrumaist Paradise were either unborn, or were children and wards of corrupt Convention People’s Party officials. Some of them, including children of corrupt District Commissioners, were indeed studying abroad under scholarships they did not deserve while these atrocities were being meted out to Ghanaians.



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