By Tabora Bojang
In its position paper presented to the National Assembly Wednesday, Gambia Bar Association has said criminalising false publication and broadcasting and giving false information to a public officer as included in the Criminal Offences Bill 2020 are untenable and has no place in a democratic dispensation.
The Bill was tabled in the National Assembly by the Minister of Justice in 2020 and has since been referred to the Constitutional and Human Rights Committee to scrutinise and seek the opinions of relevant stakeholders and report back to the plenary.
The bill contains clauses that are highly considered inadequate in promoting and safeguarding freedom of expression and of the press.
According to the Bar, the provision on false publication which is inserted in the current Criminal Code has been used to muzzle freedom of expression and media freedom and it is in conflict with Gambia’s international obligations such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“This was clearly pronounced by the ECOWAS court in the case of the Federation of African Journalists, Fatou Jaw Manneh, Fatou Camara, Alagie Jobe and Lamin Fatty v Government of the Gambia. The court in its wisdom opined the practice of imposing sanctions on sedition, libel and false publication has a chilling effect that may duly restrict the exercise of freedom of expression of journalists. The application of these laws will amount to a continued violation of internationally guaranteed rights of the applicants. The ECOWAS Court further directed that the legislations on sedition, criminal libel, defamation and false news be reviewed and decriminalized to be in conformity with the country’s international provisions on the freedom of expression. As a nascent democracy, rebuilding and consolidating our democracy, such a provision will unduly restrict the rights of the citizenry to exercise their freedom of expression. By extension, such will limit their ability to hold their government and public officials accountable. This provision is usually used by governments to suppress opponents, critiques, academic freedom and freedom of the media and above all limit the right and duty of citizens to hold the State accountable. It is not in line with democratic norms, our country’s international obligations and does not augur well for good governance,” GBA submitted.