VICE Meets Anas Aremeyaw Anas

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In this VICE MEETS, Raf Katigbak sits down with Anas Aremeyaw Anas, the most notorious journalist in Ghana and modern day crime fighter who exposes corruption and helps police arrest some of the worst criminals in Africa. Following the HOT DOCS premiere of Chameleon in which Anas stars as the main character in this revealing documentary, Anas explains his journalistic methods, the risks involved in these operations and why he must always keep his identity hidden.

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‘Chameleon’: Hot Docs Review

A documentary filmmaker follows Ghanaian journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas on three of his undercover investigative cases

The shape-shifter at the center of Ryan Mullins’ concise and involving Chameleon is journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas, a Ghanaian in his 30s who conducts elaborate undercover stings. In his successful crusade to “name, shame and jail” perpetrators of human rights abuses, along with the fraudulent and the corrupt, Anas has disguised himself as a sheikh, a woman and a rock, among other borrowed identities.

In the documentary, he never appears without his face blurred or obstructed, yet he gradually comes into focus. That’s partly the result of the few personal facts that emerge, but Mullins’ chief concern, like Anas’s, is the work itself. With adrenaline-pumping, fly-on-the-wall immediacy, the director-cinematographer-editor exposes the work’s perils, frustrations and triumphs as well as the ethical questions it raises.

Mullins is there for Anas’s exuberant appearance before teen students at his former school (eyes and nose covered by a curtain of beaded strings), and the filmmaker is by his side when he visits his grandmother and hands out cash to all her neighbors in the village. First and foremost, he follows Anas and his colleagues as they close in on three targets: a spiritualist accused of raping children, an illegal abortionist who forces women to have sex with him, and an abusive religious cult.

The film incorporates hidden-camera video gathered by Anas’s team as evidence, often over many months and across national borders. A female television producer who works with Anas speaks with conviction about the galvanizing effect some of that evidence has had on her. “The first time I saw it,” she says of footage of the abortionist, “I broke down.”

Anas’s investigations in print and visual media, as editor of the New Crusading Guide, have made him a faceless celebrity. Approached by Mullins, people on the streets of Accra sing Anas’s praises. It’s easy to see why a BBC reporter refers to him as “investigative journalist extraordinaire,” why he was name-checked by President Obama, and why his TED talk has been viewed more than a million times.

It’s also easy to see why his unorthodox methods make some bristle. According to an onscreen title that appears early in the film, he “works directly with law enforcement to ensure that justice is carried out effectively.” Imagine that being said of an American journalist. By the time Anas makes his final appearance at a target’s door, he’s accompanied by police and armed with an arrest warrant. Mullins captures exchanges with cops, who clearly respect Anas, in which he seems to be calling the shots. At one point, Anas needs to be reminded that the charges against a suspect are not his to decide.

And yet, culprits whose victims are powerless might continue to operate in the shadows if not for his tireless efforts. Mullins interviews a newsman who cites the Ghana Journalists Association code of ethics, which states that information should not be obtained through subterfuge. The journalist then tempers that guideline with the observation that, in a society of multiple cultures like Ghana’s, ethics are more a matter of resilience than they are absolute.

In Mullins’ footage, a sense of lack among Ghanaians is evident, but also a sense of forward-looking energy. If, as one observer notes, sub-Saharan Africa is a rich land whose people are impoverished, Anas is a hero, defending those who have no power and condemning those who abuse it. He’s not unaware of the gray-area complexities of his work, but he’s driven to pursue justice and determined to put himself on the line to achieve it. The justice he effects — the longed-for triumph of right over wrong — is the stuff of wish fulfillment that has driven Hollywood movies for decades, and storytelling for eons. It’s no wonder that some Ghanaians believe he has superpowers.

Production company: EyeSteelFilm
Director: Ryan Mullins
Producer: Bob Moore
Executive producers: Daniel Cross, Mila Aung-Thwin, Robin Smith, Steven Silver, Neil Tabatznik
Director of photography: Ryan Mullins
Editor: Ryan Mullins
Composer: Florencia di Concilio
Sales: Dogwoof

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

Anas Aremeyaw Anas: Africa’s most notorious undercover journalist

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.

Read full story here.

Letters of Commendation

As a result of sharing contents of our investigations with state agencies and other members of civil society, we receive commendations a few of which are produced below. What my team and I are however cautious as ever to let these set into our ranks complacency and mediocrity. These are motivation as much as they are challenges to do more.