Media Foundation expresses concern about anti-freedom of expression laws in Gambia

By Juldeh Njie, GPU Intern

The Media Foundation for West Africa has expressed concern over the continuous existence of provisions in the Gambian constitution that “threaten freedom of expression”.

Sulemana Braimah, executive director of MFWA, said although the conditions of freedom of expression and opinion have improved in The Gambia, the existence of certain laws in “the constitution will threaten freedom of expression”.

“The continuous existence of provisions on media practice in the Constitution and other pieces of legislation such as the Official Secrets Act, Children’s Act, Women’s Act, Sexual Offences Act, Domestic Violence Act, and Terrorism Offences Act continue to pose a threat to the enjoyment of freedom of expression and opinion,” Mr Braimah said.

He made this comment in MFWA’s written submission to the Human Rights Committee on the occasion of the review of the report of The Gambia under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

In its submission, the MFWA expressed concern on four issues: transitional measures; freedom of expression and opinion conditions; existence of inimical freedom of expression legislations; judicial procedures and non-compliance of court rulings (specifically the cases of Chief Ebrima Manneh, Deyda Hydara and Musa Saidykhan).

On freedom of expression, the Foundation said the conditions of freedom of expression and opinion have improved and generally journalists and citizens are free to express themselves without fear of being arrested or prosecuted since the coming of the new government.

It however raised eyebrows about the provisions in the constitution and other statutes inhibiting freedom of expression.

The MFWA also pointed out that high taxes on newspapers and exorbitant broadcast licence fees “pose serious challenge of media sustainability in the country”.

“Media independence, sustainability and plurality are at risk due to these taxes,” the Foundation said.

On the Supreme Court’s declaration of laws on false publication and broadcasting, and sedition against the President to be constitutional, the Ghana-based foundation said the ruling contradicts a recent ECOWAS court ruling that found that those laws violate freedom of expression and human rights.

“While the MFWA cannot fault the government for the ruling of the Supreme Court which is currently largely independent; and also gave a ruling based on the Constitution of The Gambia, we are concerned that the government defended these laws during the litigation,” it said.

“The continuous existence of these inimical laws in the law books of The Gambia threaten the enjoyment of freedom of expression, access to information and other human rights and goes against Article 19 of the ICCPR and the ruling of the ECOWAS Court.”

Recommendations

The MFWA urged the government of The Gambia to fulfill its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by including language from the standard international treaties and conventions in its statutes that promote and respect freedom of expression.

The Foundation also called on the government to adhere to the recent ECOWAS court ruling and repeal all repressive laws still on their books that are onerous to the free exchange of ideas necessary to a free society, and also bring media and freedom of expression legislation in the Constitution to conform to international best standards such as the ICCPR.

“Repeal the Information and Communication Act; initiate processes to pass progressive laws such as Right to Information Law, Broadcasting Law (including the legal transformation of the state broadcaster into a public service broadcaster),” the MFWA recommended.