In a period of one month, Lighthouse Chapel International filed four suits against four journalists and associates of The Fourth Estate.
The first three are defamation suits over the content of the “Darkness in a lighthouse” series published by The Fourth Estate in 2021.
The church sued the Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Estate, Manasseh Azure Awuni; the reporter who worked on the Lighthouse story, Edwin Appiah; the Executive Director of the Media Foundation for West Africa, Sulemana Braimah; and the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), for defamation.
The Fourth Estate is a non-profit journalism project of the MFWA.
In the fourth suit, Lighthouse wants an Accra High Court to imprison the four for contempt of court for publishing the complaints of abuse and other related stories after the six former Lighthouse pastors had filed their suits against the church on the matter.
In the contempt suit, speaking through its crusade director Marcel Aboagye, the church has asked the court to convict the defendants “for contempt of court, without the option of a fine, but a custodial sentence.
The church said The Fourth Estate’s work after the six pastors had sued the church ‘were highly critical,…“a jaundiced, one-sided, highly prejudicial publication and republication of matters or issues pending for resolution by a court of law.” It said the publications have “poisoned the minds of the public with the Applicant’s [church’s] alleged wrongdoing and guiltiness such that if the trial or trials were to end in the Applicant’s favour, the public would be most surprised and shocked and conclude, not only that justice has not been served, but the courts themselves have been compromised.”
It also cited the sharing of the stories as part of The Fourth Estate’s end of year recap (sharing of links) of its major stories including the Lighthouse series, on social media as contemptuous.
“The respondents were served with copies of the defamation suits on 20TH December 2021, and appearing to be incensed by it and/or with the view of demonstrating to the court that there could be no lawful limits to the way they practice their brand of journalism, threw all caution to the wind and defiantly republished the First, Second and Third Publications on their Facebook walls on Christmas Day 25th December 2021 and, thereby, regenerated a fresh heated public debate and public discussion on the six suits pending before the Honourable court,” Lighthouse said in its statement of claim.
According to the church, the publications and republications generated “thousands of degrading comments” against LCI and its founder, Bishop Dag Heward-Mills.
The church is also not happy with The Fourth Estate publications when the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) decided in favour of the church after the pastors had petitioned the national pensions collector to investigate the church’s non-payment of their pension contributions.
The church said The Fourth Estate needed to be punished because it used in its analysis of the SSNIT ruling “documents [that] are or were obviously potential evidence in the pending suits” to show the pastors were employees of the church contrary to the ruling by SSNIT and church’s ‘contention in its statements of defence” in those suits. It said The Fourth Estate was “unrepentant” and has shown no “remorse” and continues to act in ways that undermine the justice system in Ghana.
Lighthouse said The Fourth Estate’s actions amounted to “serial contempt in the highest degree and are accordingly liable to be convicted for contempt of court without the option of a fine, but a custodial sentence.”
The contempt case is due to be heard on Monday, January 31, 2022.
This week, the court struck out Lighthouse’s application for a default judgment in the defamation suits against members of the Fourth Estate for failing to file their defence to the Lighthouse publication.
It turned out the defence had been filed within the stipulated time and ahead of the date Lighthouse purported to have caused a search to be done. It was also ordered by the court to merge all the three identical defamation suits into one by filing a fresh writ.