Friday, July 5, 2013

‘Gambian citizens’ wage concerted efforts to pit security against Government’

Information Minister, Nana Grey Johnson, justified harsh law with claims that Gambians have waged concerted efforts "to pit people and security officials against their Government" (Photo Credit: MSJoof/TNBES/Globe/FPI)
“In the recent past, some citizens have waged concerted efforts to pit the people and the security officials of The Gambia against their Government,” according to Nana Grey Johnson.

 They do this by inciting the people to engage in unpatriotic behaviour, spreading false news and engaging in criminal defamation against Government officials, the Minister of Information, Communication, and Information Infrastructure, said on Wednesday. 

Tabling an “Information and Communication (Amendment) Act 2013” which imposes a prison term of 15 years or a fine of D3 million or both, Mr. Johnson said: “Such tendencies, if unchecked are a recipe for chaos and instability in any country.” 

“Therefore, this Bill seeks to provide for the deterrent punishment of such persons who are engaged in such treacherous campaigns against The Gambia both internally and outside The Gambia,” he said on 3 July, 2013 shortly before the Assembly approve the Bill.

As an adjustment to the 2009 Information and Communication Act, the Information and Communication (Amendment) Act 2013 reads:

Section 173A Internet related offences 

(1) A person commits an offence if he or she uses the internet to –
a.      Spread false news against the Government or public officials;

b.      Incite dissatisfaction or instigate violence against the Government or public officials or

c.       Caricature, abuse or make derogatory statements against the person or character of officials
d.      Impersonate any public official

e.      Blackmail any person or

f.        Threaten to commit a criminal offence against any person

(2) A person who commits an offence under sub-section (1) is liable on conviction to a fine of three million Dalasi or imprisonment for fifteen years or to both fine and imprisonment.

(3) This section shall apply to all persons without regard to the place from which the offence was committed.

Supporting the motion, Hon Seedy Njie, a nominated MP for Youths, said the world is rapidly growing particularly on the side of technology.

As such, criminal activities are related to technology and are on growth, hence, this measure taken by The Gambia Government is a good move to deter criminals, he said.

People sit in their offices or sit somewhere and conspire among themselves to bring chaos in their country by publishing wrong messages,” he said, citing the unrest in North Africa where citizens use the internet (social media) to mobilise protests.     

In The Gambia, he said people have started to use the internet to blackmail the Government and trying to put hatred towards the Government.

Hon Fabakary Tombong Jatta, the Majority Leader and MP for Serrekunda East, said freedom of speech, freedom of the press and all other freedoms - there is no unlimited freedom.

“Freedom ask for responsible citizenship and responsible behaviour and professionalism,” he said. “Something that would bring Gambia into chaos and instability in name of irresponsible freedom would not be allowed.”

According to him, the bill allows for anyone to speak sincerely about anybody. What it does not allow is for the irresponsible spreading of unnecessary and false rumours, unnecessary character assassination, inciting violence based on your selfish interest.

He said they are aware of people who are been followed for leaking out information, and others detained for years without trial in name of security in the “so-called big democracies” – apparently refering to the ordeals of United States citizens Edward Snowdown and Bradley Manning.

While citing the unrest in Libya and Syria, Jatta reiterated that the bill will serve as a deterrent.     

Deputy Speaker, Fatou Mbaye, said The Gambia is very peaceful country, and that the country needs a regulation that will stop “unscrupulous” and “irresponsible persons” from using the media to spread chaos and malicious information.

According to her, senior Government officials are even afraid to pick up their phones to respond to international calls, because you don’t even know who you are speaking to, which is not fair to individuals or Gambia either.

Written by Modou S. Joof
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