Thursday, July 11, 2013

‘Internet law furthers crackdown on free expression’

ARTICLE19 says the law forms part of a pattern of intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and government critics.

The global press freedom and free expression watchdog, ARTICLE 19, has condemned The Gambia’s adoption of an internet law which it said “furthers Government crackdown on freedom of expression”.

The July 3, 2013 Information and Communication (amendment) Act 2013 severely restricts the right to freedom of expression on the internet, criminalising online speech, ARTICLE19 said on Wednesday. 

“The newly adopted law is the latest attempt by the Gambian authorities to stifle dissent in a country that already has some of the harshest laws on the right to freedom of expression in Africa,” says Aliou Niane, ARTICLE 19 Programme Officer Safety and Security West Africa.

Gambia’s National Assembly passed the Act exactly one week ago – creating several new offences for online speech that are punishable by a fifteen-year jail term or a fine of three million Dalasi (around 63,250 Euros) or both.

Also, the Act criminalises whoever spreads “false news” about the government or public officials, caricatures or makes derogatory statements against public officials, and incites dissatisfaction or instigates violence against the government.

“ARTICLE 19 condemns the Act as a flagrant breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as well as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), both of which Gambia is a party to,” says Bruno Menzan, ARTICLE 19 West Africa Programme Assistant.

The ACHPR, in its Resolution on Repealing Criminal Defamation Laws in Africa, has expressed concerns about restrictive laws that censor the public’s right to access information, direct attacks on journalists, including their arrest and detention, and physical assault and killings, due to statements or materials published against government officials.

ARTICLE 19 regards the new law as a blatant attempt to clamp down on the only remaining space for Gambians to freely express themselves in a country where traditional media have been reduced to silence via legal means and physical attacks.

It says the law forms part of a pattern of intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and government critics.

“The justification given by the government for the amendment – protecting the country from chaos and instability – is purely a diversion to conceal yet more violations of freedom of expression in the Gambia,” a ARTICLE19 July 10 statement indicated.

The agency calls on the UN and ACHPR Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression to urge the Gambian government to repeal this law and all other laws that unduly restrict expression in the country.
Previously, ARTICLE 19 analysed several provisions of the Gambian Criminal Code and found that they are in violation of international standards on freedom of expression.

The Information and Communication (Amendment) Act 2013, which amends the Information and Communication 2009 Act, creates similar offences but applied to the internet.

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