Puff pieces don’t exist in the world of Ghanaian undercover investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas.
Anas is unlike many others in his field and his work goes beyond any sense of traditional journalism. Writing from a metropolitan newsroom, conducting phone interviews and attending press conferences is in no way comparable to committing oneself to a West African mental institution or going undercover as an elderly woman or a rock on the side of a road.
The 30-something year old Ghanaian journalist goes to great lengths to protect his identity and personal details. Despite being one of the most famous men in Ghana, few have seen his face or could pick him out of a crowd. Pictures of him out of disguise show blurred or censored boxes over his face, and he covers his face with string or beads during speaking engagements. Disguised with elaborate costumes and wigs, and armed with hidden cameras, Anas works to stop corruption and seek out law breakers. He has gone undercover to investigate and write on corruption dozens of times, using his signature method of “naming, shaming and jailing.” He has posed as a crooked cop, worked as a janitor inside a brothel and checked himself into the Accra Psychiatric Hospital as a patient.
“Anonymity is my secret weapon that I use very well, and I have a habit of being able to blend in.”
While investigating human rights abuses at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital, Anas underwent a series of psychiatric consults and checks that took place over the course of a month. He says that he studied conditions thoroughly before the sting. To get admitted, he complained of heat in his head, spoke in an extremely repetitive fashion and gave vague answers to direct questions—a range of symptoms that could be attributed to a number of psychiatric disorders. Once inside the hospital, Anas documented his experiences using hidden cameras, passing off memory cards of footage to his colleagues when they would pose as visitors.
“Patients were being physically abused, drugs like cocaine and heroin were being sold to patients by hospital staff,” Anas says. He was prescribed a drug which made him extremely tired, so he took caffeine pills to help him stay awake and alert. He also says that he took cocaine while in the hospital to fit in amongst the other patients.
His extreme methods not only educate, they can produce change: after his psychiatric hospital story was published in a paper he co-owns, The New Crusading Guide, some of the problems he exposed were resolved. His story on child prostitution from his time in the aforementioned brothel helped break two major sex trafficking rings in 2008.
Making a difference is the reason that Anas continues to risk his life to report these stories. “There’s no point in doing journalism that doesn’t lead to society’s progression. Journalism is about your people,” he says.
“My journalism is a product of my society. I have looked carefully at the society that I belong [to] and I have thought that naming, shaming and jailing is the best,” he continues. Anas’s work has sent numerous people to prison and he’s provided evidence to law enforcement and testified in court. His testimony is provided in closed chambers alone with the judge so as to maintain his anonymity.
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