Thursday, May 3, 2012

Statement on World Press Freedom Day 2012

Wednesday, May 02, 2012
GPU President, Bai Emil Touray
Compatriots, journalists and friends of the media
Today is World Press Freedom Day. Twelve years ago, this day was set aside by the United Nations General Assembly through decision 48/432 to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.  

The Gambia Press Union with conviction that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers; annually join the rest of the world to celebrate the day.  

Today, we will commemorate the event at the TANGO Conference Hall in Kanifing.  The commemoration will take a critical look at the unjust and undemocratic nature of Seditious and libel laws by a US legal expert, Mr. Kevin Goldberg, who will be the special guest speaker for the event.

Compatriots, journalists and friends of the media,

It is now seventeen years since we have been celebrating World Press Freedom Day under the government of President Jammeh and always demanding from the government to uphold its democratic obligations and engender an enabling environment that will guarantee freedom of expression and press. Yet, the situation of freedom of expression and journalists in The Gambia is increasingly worrisome, as the state continues to entertain draconian media laws and harassment of journalists.

 Seventeen years has now passed, journalists and other members of the media are routinely subjected to human rights violations, such as unlawful arrests and detentions, torture, unfair trials, harassment, assaults, death threats and closures of media houses, making it extremely difficult to do our work.

This negation of free expression and intimidation of journalists show no sign of abating even though President Yahya Jammeh has just won a fourth term in office, which he began without filling the position of Minister of Information. This has made The Gambia the only country in Africa without an information minister.

Colonial laws which gives supreme powers to the president continue to be the embodiment of the criminal code; libel is as criminal as sedition and over the years the country has seen increasing number of citizens including journalists been prosecuted for given false information to a public official for merely petitioning the president to express their dissatisfaction on matters of public interest.

After seven years, there is still no justice for slain journalist Deyda Hydara, who was murdered in cold blood on the night of December 16th 2004 and no proper investigation has been conducted on the disappearance of journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh, a senior reporter of the Daily Observer Newspaper who went missing since 2006.   

Recently, a local community radio station, Tarenga FM was subjected to harassment and forced to abandon news review under the disguise of protecting national security.

Cognizant that Chapter IV Article 25 of The Gambian Constitution provides for freedom of speech, expression, the press and other media. Article 19 of the ICCPR ensures that everyone has the right to hold opinions without interference. Further it states that: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression.”

This right includes the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media. And The African Charter (Article 9) provides that every individual shall have the right to receive information and every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law.

Gambia Press Union therefore reiterate our call on the government of The Gambia, being signatory to these international statues to realize the urgency to act in accordance with the dictates of these statues and as well honor the principles of democracy.  In addition to investigating the disappearance of journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh and murder of Deyda Hydara and bring perpetrators to justice without further delay.

We further join the Special Rappateur on Freedom of Expression of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights and Article 19 to demand that the government of The Gambia review the draconian media laws in our statue books, notably the Criminal Code Amendment Act of 2005, the Newspaper Amendment Act of 2005, Official Secret Act of 2008, and the Communications Act of 2009 with a view to bringing them in line with international standards.

It should be noted that journalists like all other sectors and professionals are legitimate and have a right to contribute their quota to national development. We serve a crucial role not only in bringing the state closer to the citizenry but also promote the creation of an open society where democracy and good governance flourish. The accomplishment of our crucial role would be hard to come by under a restrictive legal and policy environment.
Source: The Daily News

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