By Tabora Bojang
National Assembly Members have made mixed reactions to the government’s plan to introduce a legislation criminalising insults on social media.
President Adama Barrow caused a stir last week with his reported threats to stop all political activities if he wins re-election.
However, after a huge public outcry, the government came up with a statement indicating that the president’s remarks were misinterpreted.
It said the president instead intends to work with parliament to come up with a law that brings “lasting solution to the abuse and insults” meted on Gambians on social media.
Speaking to The Standard, the Majority Leader of the National Assembly Kebba K Barrow said he will not support any such laws and accused the government of “losing their sense of direction.”
“Why will they bring such a bill when we have other important issues to deal with? As far as I am concerned, it is the president who is to blame for all these insults because if a NAM can sit in front of the president and insult a political leader while the president sits, laughing and clapping, then he is encouraging it. I am not interested in that kind of bill. I have other things to look after which are in the best interest of the people,” the Kombo South NAM stated.
The Minority Leader, Samba Jallow of Niamina Dankunku said even though he totally condemned the spate of social media insults, his position to support a bill criminalising it will depend on how the bill is brought to parliament and its contents. According to him, the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour should be denounced by all Gambians.
“Insults are not accepted even in our cultural setups. If someone makes a political blunder that should not warrant anybody to insult his or her parents but let me tell you these [insults] are perpetrated by people who are not even involved in our politics,” Jallow added.
The government’s planned introduction of the new legislation has already been criticised by the Gambia Bar Association and several rights groups, positing that the law could promote censorship and stifle freedom of expression.
But according to the Minority Leader, the right to freedom of speech and expression does not mean one should be “offensive.”
“Insults are not part of freedom of speech and expression. Definitely, I cannot accept it because I respect my parents. Meet any member of the Gambia Bar Association and insult them and see if they will not take you to court. Was Lie Saine [former Banjul South NAM] not taken to court for insulting? But they [Gambia Bar Association] never came out and condemned that.”
Serekunda West NAM, Madi Ceesay, said he will not support any laws that will stifle people’s rights, arguing our current laws are adequate to address social media offences.
“I think the presidency is just exposing their ignorance. There are laws in this country that ban incitement and breach of peace. So, when you offend me, I can go to the court because there are laws that address such offences instead of coming up with a specific law. How are they going to enforce it?”
Ceesay said the government should instead focus on dialoguing with political parties starting from President Barrow himself to address the problem.
“He is a political leader and his followers are insulting, other militants are also insulting other parties, so I think it will be good if the parties come together and trickle down this message to their militants.”
Central Baddibu NAM, Sulayman Saho said he will support laws intended to enhance our democracy and insert hygiene in our politics.
“It depends on the manner in which it will be brought before us because you cannot just make laws to satisfy an individual or a group of people. Freedom of expression needs to be well managed and it needs to be well monitored. It cannot just be a reckless affair. I really support it because people cannot be insulting and use hate speech. So I think the law will promote ideas rather than insults,” Saho stated.