By Alagie Manneh
The Gambia Press Union has yesterday issued a lengthy statement asking the police to drop charges of sedition leveled against Madi Jobarteh, a prominent human rights activist.
In the wake of his latest arrest and subsequent release in October, the police slapped Madi with charges of seditious intention, false publication and broadcasting.
The police said the activist made a series of unspecified social media comments in connection to the arrests and detention of comedian Alhaji Bora Sisawo, including his reaction to statements made by President Barrow directed at the media and people critical of the administration.
Although hearing for the trial is yet to be set, the GPU is however calling for the activist’s immediate release.
“We are calling on the police to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Madi Jobarteh,” said Muhammed S Bah, the president of the GPU. “The government must respect the fundamental freedoms of individuals in law and in practice as affirmed by the Gambian Constitution and various UN, AU, and Ecowas instruments that the Gambia is a party to.”
Giving a detailed breakdown of Madi’s encounter with police over the years, GPU secretary general Modou S Joof described Mr Jobarteh as the “most persecuted human rights activists in The Gambia, for merely utilising his fundamental right to free expression and holding the government, state institutions and public officials to account over allegations of corruption, poor service delivery and misgovernance”.
He added: “The government needs to demonstrate tolerance for freedom of expression and to appreciate the role of activists like Madi Jobarteh and the media who are playing a crucial role in fighting against corruption and for political and social-economic progress – which can only be achieved when fundamental rights and freedoms are upheld.”
The Union urged the government to prioritise the reform of laws restricting press freedom, freedom of expression and civil liberties as per the recommendations of the TRRC, the 2018 judgement of the Ecowas Court, and recommendations by a government-instituted Media Law Reforms Committee of 2018.
“These reforms should include removing or repealing or amending any provisions in the Criminal Code that are repressive or unduly restrictive or inimical to freedom of expression and of the press in a democratic society, including false publication and inciting to sedition which are found in the new Criminal Offences Bill, 2022. All laws that negatively affect fundamental human rights and have been earmarked for reforms deserve the same urgency that the government gives to other laws at the level of the Executive and the National Assembly – as was the case for the Former Presidents’ Bill, 2023 among others.”