This exclusive Al Jazeera documentary is the incredible behind-the-scenes account of one man’s extraordinary battle against judicial corruption in Ghana, one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most developed countries.
Over the course of two years, acclaimed investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas secretly filmed 12 High Court judges, 22 other judges, and 140 other court officials accepting bribes.
In early September this year, despite huge pressure to keep his findings confidential, Anas released them to the Ghanaian public, unleashing an almost unprecedented crisis of confidence in the nation’s judiciary – hitherto one of its most trusted and revered institutions.
Justice! follows this most unconventional journalist, a qualified barrister in his own right, as these dramatic events come to a climax; revealing the complex moral and ethical dilemmas involved in an self-funded crusade that always looked likely to humble some of the most powerful men in the country, but which controversially also led to the release of alleged violent criminals from police custody.
Although his identity is a closely guarded secret – because maintaining his anonymity is so crucial to working undercover – Anas has long enjoyed huge public support in Ghana and across Africa. Famously, his work has even been endorsed by US President Barack Obama. But this time even many of his friends feared he had bitten off more than he could chew, that the stakes were too high, that the risks to his safety were too great.
This film tells of the huge political and personal pressures that saw Anas put his own and his family’s lives on the line. As the day of revelation drew near, the number of death threats increased and tense last-minute manoeuvring was needed to outwit the shadowy enemies trying desperately to stifle the story.
The resulting scandal, which is still playing out, is changing the political landscape of the nation and its effects may be felt for years to come. As Kofi Annan, former UN secretary-general and one of Ghana’s most famous sons says in the film: “Sometimes it takes a spark, just a spark, and I think Anas has provided that spark for the whole edifice to blow up.”
One thing is certain – it makes for compelling viewing.
By Executive Producer Ron McCullagh of independent production company InsightTWI, which made this film for Al Jazeera, and has known Anas for many years.
When Anas Aremeyaw Anas was a boy he had the run of an army barracks in Accra, Ghana, where his father was based. He tells the story of how he was deeply affected by seeing taxi drivers who complained about soldiers not paying their fares, being mercilessly beaten in the guardroom. That sense of wrong he felt then is still with him. Two decades later his ire is now being directed at his country’s courtrooms.
For two years, using funds he gathered independently, Anas has been running the most audacious undercover investigation ever carried out in Africa. His revelations are truly, deeply shocking.
The undercover footage he and his team have gathered suggest that justice in Ghana is for sale; that some judges in the lower and higher courts will alter their verdicts and opinions for personal gain, so the guilty can walk free, so those willing or able to pay the price can have a ruling in their favour whatever the rights and wrongs of their case. Few will argue that judges are sacrosanct but they are surely supposed to uphold the integrity of the system they embody. When they don’t, they cause irreparable damage to the societies they represent. It is hard, then, to overstate the importance of Anas’ work or the desperate need for reform his revelations have identified.
It helped that Anas is also a trained barrister, a useful asset if you are going to challenge a country’s judiciary. His familiarity with the law and the practical day to day workings of a court allowed him and his team to work out how to navigate between public galleries and the judges’ private chambers. Knowing what is and what is not admissible evidence is also critical in knowing when to switch the cameras off, when the investigation is complete.
|Anas secretly filmed 12 High Court judges, 22 other judges, and 140 other court officials accepting bribes [Al Jazeera]|
For the most part, such as on this project, he works independently or with media partners such as ourselves and Al Jazeera, but he is unconventional enough to take up partnerships with government agencies should he feel it necessary.
On a 2009 investigation into illegal cocoa smuggling, for example, he worked with Ghana’s Cocoa Board and he’s done similar highly publicised investigations for other state agents from time to time. He’s always open about this. When critics in my industry argue that such work should never be funded by the state, Anas responds that African countries do not have the public service broadcasters or research institutions or the media resources found in the developing world to support such inquiries.
His previous investigations in Ghana have looked into Chinese sex traffickers, abuse in mental hospitals, corrupt port officials and much else besides – and they have made him a well-known media figure, although his insistence on never showing his face in public means that very few of his fellow citizens actually know what he looks like.
It didn’t surprise me then, that when results of this latest investigation into the judiciary were made public, the reactions were hugely positive. Indeed, when one of the judges tried to track him down to deliver an injunction to stop him showing footage of judges taking bribes and Anas went underground, many Ghanaians started wearing T-shirts declaring “I am Anas”. They see him as ‘every man’ in other words, one of them, fighting against injustice on their behalf when no one else seems prepared to.
Anas’ critics – among them, of course, the many subjects of his undercover stings – argue that his covert strategies are underhand or involve entrapment, that it’s in some way unfair to use such techniques to catch the bad guys doing things that they shouldn’t. In this particular instance, he’s also been criticised because the bribing of some of the judges resulted in the release of alleged criminals. It’s a serious issue because as you’ll see in the film, those set free included someone alleged to have committed an armed robbery and an alleged rapist. His answer to such charges is always characteristically blunt and to the point, that “extreme diseases require extreme remedies”.
In that, in Ghana at least, the public seem very much in accord with that view.
|The scandal, which is still playing out, rocked Ghana to its core [Al Jazeera]|