Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Gambia: MFWA alarmed by ‘threat to online freedom’

Nana Grey Johnson, Minister of Information and Communication, said this new law provides deterrent punishment for such persons who are engaged in treacherous campaigns against The Gambia both internally and outside
 
The Media Foundation for West Africa, MFWA, on Monday said it is alarmed by the recent amendments to The Gambia’s laws aimed at imposing stiffer punishments and stifling freedom of expression online”.

On July 3, the National Assembly in Banjul, the Gambian capital, passed into law an amendment to the Information and Communication Act 2013, imposing stiffer sanctions on persons found guilty of using the internet to spread false news.

The amended Act specifies that a person commits a criminal offence if he or she uses the internet to spread false news against the government, incite dissatisfaction or instigate violence against the government, caricature, abuse or make derogatory statements against public officials.

Under the law, offenders will be jailed up to 15 years or fined an amount of three million Dalasi (about US$100,000).

Deterrent punishment 

The Government intends to use this law to silence critical Gambian internet users, online activists, online newspapers and bloggers within or without the country, according to the MFWA.

Nana Grey Johnson, Minister of Information and Communication, said this new law provides deterrent punishment for such persons who are engaged in treacherous campaigns against The Gambia both internally and outside.

But, the sub-regional press and free expression agency said it is alarmed at these recent amendments to the country’s laws all aimed at imposing stiffer punishments and stifling freedom of expression in the country.

“The Gambian Government has refused to act on calls from international and regional governments or groups, demanding for the repeal of or expulsion of such laws that criminalize speech and has instead embarked on imposing stiffer amendments,” Prof Kwame Karikari said on July 8.

The MFWA Executive Director recalled that on April 16, 2013, the National Assembly amended Section 114 of the Criminal Code, imposing a jail term of five years or a fine of Fifty Thousand Dalasi (about US$1,650) on persons found guilty of giving false information.

Until the amendment, the offence of giving false information carried a jail term of not more than six months or a fine of Five Hundred Dalasi (about US$17) or both fine and imprisonment.
Over-criminalising
On Tuesday, The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its Africa group, the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), the internet law which they described as “the Over-Criminalising Media Bill in The Gambia”.
The amendments to the 2009 Information and Communication Act apply to all persons without regard to the place from which the offence was committed.

“The amendment in itself is a serious ploy to intimidate the general citizenry and journalists in particular from scrutinising government officials and reporting on their activities,” Gabriel Baglo said.

The Director of the IFJ Africa Office added: “This recent amendment to the Information and Communication Act is a serious divorce from the Constitution of The Gambia, which guarantees freedom of expression.  

Big setback
 
Mohammed Garba, President of FAJ, said this change to the Act is another big setback in the history of press freedom in the tiny West African country. 

“We call on President Yahya Jammeh to engage the media community in The Gambia for an inclusive media bill that decriminalises libel and promotes ethical journalism,” Garba advised. 
While noting the critical role that online media outlets play in the expression of divergent views, Mr Garba said “this amendment therefore aims to starve the Gambian populace from viable information”.

According to a member of The Gambia Press Union (GPU) “The amendment adopted by the National Assembly is loose and vague in its entirety and as such can deny citizens their inalienable right to information.
 
Such amendments provoke suspicion of an inevitable crackdown on dissenting views and the media in general which cannot be justified under any circumstances.”  

FAJ and IFJ have called on the Government of The Gambia to revoke this amendment to the Information and Communication Act. It contradicts the right to freedom of expression and of the press which are very essential pillars in the promotion of democracy and good governance, they said

A VERSION OF THIS STORY FIRST APPEARED HERE ON FPI
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