Wednesday, April 18, 2012

ARTICLE19 exhort Gambia to repeal draconian media laws

Fatou Jagne Senghore, Executive Director ARTICLE19/West Africa
The international free expression and media freedom watchdog, ARTICLE 19 is urging the Gambia Government to repeal draconian media laws meant to stifle freedom of expression and of the press.

It followed the organisation’s “January 2012 analysis of selected media laws” in the tiny West African country against international standards for the protection of freedom of expression.

In particular, this analysis outlines ARTICLE 19’s key concerns regarding the constitutional protection of freedom of expression, the Newspaper Act 1944 (as subsequently amended); Sections 52, 178 and 181A of the Gambian Criminal Code; and the Information and the Communications Act 2009.

In an April 17, 2012 statement, ARTICLE 19 concluded that the laws governing the Gambian media, reviewed in this analysis, are “fundamentally flawed” and “incompatible” with the country’s obligations under international and regional standards on freedom of expression.

The most problematic features of these laws include: the registration requirements for newspapers under the Newspaper Act 1944; a number of speech-related offences (including seditious libel, criminal defamation, and publication of false news) in the  Criminal Code in clear breach of international standards for the protection of freedom of expression; and the fact that the regulation of broadcasting is ultimately entrusted to the executive rather than an independent body, as required under international law. 

In addition, the Information and Communications Act 2009 contains a number of overly broad provisions in relation to intercept (section 138) and the publication of information which is obscene in electronic form (section 170).

ARTICLE 19’s criticism of the state of freedom of expression in the Gambia is not limited to the legislation reviewed in this analysis. 

“We remain concerned about the continuous violations of the right to freedom of expression in the country, in particular the lack of media independence as well as continuous harassment, arbitrary arrests and violence against journalists, human rights defenders and political opposition,” it said.

“These serious violations should be urgently addressed by the Gambian Government,” the human rights organisation, ARTICLE 19, said.  

The Gambia is a party to a number of international and regional human rights instruments, which means the Government is obliged to uphold the right to freedom of expression and information. 

ARTICLE 19 therefore calls on the Government to initiate comprehensive review and reform of the laws applying to the media to bring it in line with its international obligations.

Based on this backdrop, the organisation outline what it called key recommendations to be acted upon by President Yahya AJJ Jammeh’s government. 

These include: Engaging in comprehensive review of the Gambian legislative framework related to freedom of expression, especially the laws applicable to the media; Repeal the Newspaper Act 1944 and subsequent amendments in their entirety; Repeal the provisions of the Criminal Code that unduly restrict freedom of expression in the Gambia, in particular Section 52 (seditious publication), Section 178 (criminal defamation), and Section 181A (dissemination of false news); and Bring the Information and Communications Act 2009 in line with international standards on freedom of expression, and in particular provide for independence of the telecommunications and broadcasting regulator.

Written by Modou S. Joof

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