Anas Aremeyaw Anas is known for, as he calls it, the “naming, shaming and jailing” of criminals all over Ghana – yet few people would be able to pick him out of a crowd. The undercover journalist, who gave today’s talk, has brought smugglers, mob bosses and pimps to justice with an unshakeable determination to, in his words, “shine light in the dark spots of society.” All without ever revealing his identity. I caught up with Anas recently by email.
With public corruption so rampant — Anas has, after all, caught cops, government officials and prison administrators in all sort of sordid acts — it’s unnerving that so many of the criminals brought to light by Anas’ investigations are then sent through a justice system full of more corrupt officials. But as Anas pointed out to me, it’s not up to him to determine the cases’ outcomes. And he has faith.
“When there’s overwhelming evidence in a case, it is impossible for a judge to throw it out,” he says. “We can all depend on a high level of transparency.”
And yet that transparency is hard to come by. Anas’ track record (and some of the backlash he has received) is thanks to his use of hidden cameras, gathering video of irrefutable “hardcore evidence,” as he likes to call it. As Anas says in his talk, “If I say you have stolen, I show you the evidence that you have stolen. I show you how you stole it and when.” But in the case of criminal investigations, says Anas, the police are often unable to employ the same methods he does. While photographic evidence is accepted in court, it’s usually at a judge’s discretion. Just as in other countries, says Anas, judges can strike down relevant evidence if it is deemed inadmissible.
Certainly Anas’ immersive tactics can be extreme. While working on a story on the Accra Psychiatric Hospital, Anas played the part of the patient, taking prescribed drugs that left him impotent for a week after he left the hospital. And in his most recent story, on Nsawam Prison in Ghana, Anas shows footage of queuing for a “proper” toilet — a manhole in the middle of the yard, around which four men are squatting, back to back. The footage, which he showed for the first time at TED2013, also contains a harrowing shot of a room within the prison piled high with dead bodies.
The story is set to break soon in Ghana. One imagines a shot of a man’s back as he walks away from the rubble, his limp straightening into a swagger, as light is thrown onto another dark corner of society. But never on the man’s face.
Here’s a list of 4 must-read stories by Anas:
1. Spirit Child: Earlier this year, Anas published Spirit Child, a chilling investigative film on the ritual killings of disabled children, who are believed in some villages in northern Ghana to be possessed by evil spirits. In these villages, elders known as “concoction men” are commissioned by parents to mix up poisonous brews to deliver to their disabled children. Anas went undercover as such a parent and found he could buy the life of his decoy son for 75 Ghana Cedi, or $40 US. At the time Anas began his investigation, he could find no public records for arrests for these practices of infanticide. By the end of the film, two concoction men are charged with attempted murder and another three men charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Of the lack of arrests in the case of spirit children, Anas says, “[Democracy] certainly cannot exist where freedom and justice, selectively applied, mean that children are killed with impunity.”
2. Chinese sex cartel: In 2009, Anas busted “King” James Xu Jin, the boss of the Accra-based Chinese sex cartel (creepily named Peach Blossom Palace), after posing as a bartender and filming the hotel where Xu Jin ran the business. Xu Jin, along with his wife and brother, was found guilty of sex trafficking. The three were sentenced to a combined 41 years in prison.
3. Spell of the Albino: Anas investigates atrocities faced by albinos in Tanzania. The bones of albinos are considered by some in sub-Saharan Africa to carry powers that bring luck and wealth. In Tanzania alone, 62 albinos have reportedly been killed since 2008. Along with journalist Richard Mgamba and albino advocate Isaack Timothy, Anas visits two young albinos recently attacked with machetes: one had his fingers cut off, the other, her arm sold. A gruesome investigation — important, but not for the faint of heart.
4. Ghana’s Madhouse Story: Anas went undercover for seven months — as a baker, taxi driver and finally a mental patient — in and around Accra Psychiatric Hospital. Mental illness is deeply stigmatized in Ghana, and inside the hospital Anas found unbearable conditions, severe neglect and abuse by nurses, and the heavy use and sale of narcotics by patients and staff. One scene shows the victim of extreme neglect, a body in the very late stages of decay, being found by hospital staff. The body is carried away in the same van that transports food to and from the hospital.
More of Anas Aremeyaw Anas’ stories can be found at African News and through Africa Investigates. He is prolific on social media — follow him on Twitter @anasglobal. Anas is also the rather public figurehead of a private investigation firm Tiger Eye, based in Accra, and the co-owner of The New Crusading Guide. On the side, Anas runs Name & Shame Ghana, a site that surfaces crowd-sourced videos of corruption. On all these sites, Anas is often depicted with his back to the viewer or with his face obstructed, as in his talk.