By Alagie Manneh
Former Gambian diplomat to Malaysia has advised President Barrow to not “spoil” The Gambia’s nascent democracy by trampling on the freedom of the press.
The president has been accused of inciting regulator Pura to threaten three radio stations for been critical of his administration.
But his former chief diplomat, Ms Ramzia Diab-Ghanem, has asked him to accept dissent and safeguard fundamental rights and freedoms, particularly of the press.
“The press was choked during the era of dictatorship,” said the former diplomat. “We fought hard in order to make sure that those draconian laws against press freedom are abolished. The reason why I am more concern about this is because I served in the Media Commission [under Jammeh] as a deputy. I later resigned because I didn’t agree with the draconian laws that were written there. I wasn’t around when the new minister came and passed those laws. In every civilised democratic society, the press plays a very important role and their rights and freedoms of expression must be respected.”
She said President Barrow’s statements that the work of some radio stations needs to be looked into is “disturbing”.
“I feel that the president erred in this statement. People will look at it as a threat and feel that it could be politically motivated. When you are the leader of the country you have to be very careful with what you do or say. We are going into the local government election which is a very important election. And so for the president to wait until now and make such statements is very disturbing.”
She urged Barrow to be accommodating and realise that democracy can be messy. “He was on the other side before, during the fight against the dictatorship. When we elected him, I remember him making a statement to the supporters saying before we rely on WhatsApp and online newspapers in order to tell us what’s going on. His comments have taken us back to the days of dictatorship. We fought for people to have their freedom of expression, freedom of their basic human rights. President Barrow should realise that he is the president of the whole country. I would advise him to open up and listen more. If he is being told that a particular radio station is against him, that doesn’t mean he has to stifle that particular radio station. It’s their right. I am urging President Barrow not to spoil the democracy that we have already fought and build to get rid of 22 years of dictatorship. My advice to him is to have more wisdom,” Diab said.