The umbrella body of Gambian journalists; the Gambia Press Union (GPU), in a statement delivered at the 58th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights on Tuesday urged the Gambian government to put an end to impunity and ensure safety of journalists during the electoral process.
According to the statement delivered by Saikou Jammeh, Secretary General of GPU, while there is no evidence of new cases of physical attack on the press since the last Commission meeting here in November 2015, it remains to be seen whether this represents a shift in approach on the part of the government.
Jammeh however said what is certain is that the level of self-censorship is unprecedented, with an estimated 20 per cent of Gambian journalists being in exile while impunity continues to prevail over the previous cases of violations of press freedom.
“2016 is an election year in the Gambia. There are enduring political, legal and economic restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and press freedom. We call on the Commission to urge the government to ensure safety of journalists during the electoral process.
“Access to state information is unduly restricted in the Gambia. The government is yet to grant TV license to private individuals, ensuring monopoly of state-owned TV. Tax levies on printing materials have induced high production costs for the print media, while radio stations mainly shy away from discussing current affairs for fear of reprisals,” Jammeh lamented.
The statement also revealed that the legislative framework on freedom of expression, media regulation and licensing is fundamentally flawed. It said that the laws are neither in line with international standards nor are they conducive in a democracy.
“While there is global trend of states reforming and outlawing laws that criminalize speech, such as criminal defamation, false news, and sedition, the Gambia has only recently amended some of these laws with heftier penalties and broader definitions. The Information and Communication Act was amended in 2013, increasing punishment to prison terms of 15 years or a fine of 3 million Dalasis for spreading false news on the internet, caricature or derogatory information against the government or public officials. Similar amendments were made to Section 114 of the Criminal Code three months before, increasing the punishment for the offence of giving false information from six months maximum jail term and 500 Dalasis fine to a jail term of five years or a fine of 50,000 Dalasis,” he said.
The statement also indicated that about a dozen Gambians, including security personnel, civil servants, and ordinary citizens, are being prosecuted for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
The Union went on to call on the Commission to urge the government to conduct comprehensive reforms of laws governing freedom of expression and press freedom, which it said should include enactment of a right to information law, while laws on sedition, false news, defamation, regulation and licensing should be reviewed and brought in line with the standards put in place by the African Commission.
“The Gambia Press Union wishes to once again bring the attention of the commission to the sedition and false information trial involving Mr. Abdoulie Ceesay, the manager of Teranga FM. The case has been dragging at the courts for eight months now. Ceesay, who was only yesterday admitted at the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital for the second time in two weeks, has been in the custody of the state for more than nine months, and his family has since Friday been denied access to him at the prison. The courts have on several times refused to grant him his right to bail, despite concerns over his health condition. The case will soon be set for judgment. We once again call on the commission to urge for his release.”