A case filed by the Gambia Press Union GPU against the the Gambia Government over the unconstitutionality of false news and false publication in the country’s statute book at the Supreme Court was heard yesterday.
The ministry of justice appeared before the Court represented by lawyer Binga D, after the government conceded on the unconstitutionality of libel, criminal defamation and sedition but maintained that false news places “reasonable restriction necessary in a democracy”.
“The freedom of speech is subjected to reasonable restrictions as may be necessary in a democratic society,” Lawyer Binga argued, adding that the nature of false news is such that it can pose a threat to national security and public interest.
The lawsuit was first filed in 2015 by Gambia Press Union but it could not proceed because the former ruler Yahya Jammeh refused to appoint judges.
The new government attempted to prevail on the GPU to withdraw, conceding on all the points except false news and false publication.
The lawyer for the Gambia Press Union, Hawa Sisay Sabally, said the laws in question are conditions that criminalised speech and as such they are void.
“Even if the court were to hear that these laws hold a legitimate aim, they are disproportionate in their application,” Sisay said, adding that journalists will not know what to write or what amounts to sedition and can discourage journalists from carrying out their job.
“They face constant risk of arrest in carrying out their duties.”
Lawyer Sisay said the laws were made in excess of authority and they are not constitutional and therefore do not deserve to be in the country’s law book.
The case is adjourned to an unspecified date for judgment.
The judges briefly grilled the state lawyer during his presentation, asking why the state wants to criminalise false news if there is already civil remedies.
One of the five-man panel cautioned that they would not want to leave room or expose people to the risk of criminal prosecution for exercising their right to free speech.