I wonder just how many ordinary citizens who attended CRC meetings persuaded the CRC to include in the proposed new Constitution limits to freedom of expression.
In the proposed Chapter VI, Part II – SPECIFIC RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS, Freedom of Expression paragraph 44.(1) Every person has the right to freedom of expression, which includes item (a) freedom to seek, receive or impart information or ideas. But then below that necessary freedom comes paragraph (2) The right to freedom of expression does not extend to (c) the uttering of abusive or threatening speech or writing that causes feelings of ill-will, disaffection or hostility.
Whooa! This muddled phrase leaves open the door for further limits to freedom of expression down the road. The Justice Minister’s proposed Criminal Offences Bill 2019 which, among other things, criminalizes criticizing the President and the government shows how this limit to freedom of expression can be abused.
If adopted, this act does not give speech writers much leeway when arguing, for example, why a presidential candidate is a poor choice. Dare not suggest that the President is crazy; doing so will get you in trouble. After all, the proposed section describing what it takes to be President says a nominee needs a letter from his medical doctor confirming his patient is not crazy, so that ill-will causing statement cannot be true. Does this mean we better not say things like Yahya Jammeh was a murderous, corrupt dictator who deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison, or risk facing in court the wrath of what’s left of the APRC?
Almost as bad is the pending Media Services Bill that creates the Gambia Independent Media Authority. Without even thinking about its onerous implications, installing yet more costly bureaucracy at a time when government spending needs to be reduced is certainly a bad idea. Just how many Pajeros and workshops will this ‘Authority’ need? Perhaps the principals of this ‘Authority’ will host an international conference here to discuss the latest media management techniques with their North Korean counterpart as the featured speaker.
If plenty of Gambians told the CRC to put free speech restrictions in the new Constitution, then that suggests much more effort needs to be put towards civic education on basic human rights. Or maybe the CRC’s contribution to this issue reflects a stressed government’s paranoia about potential civil unrest, given the assumed ‘fragile’ state of affairs here. What all this really suggests is a lack of confidence in, or fear of, the citizenry and media.
About 2500 years ago the China’s great Lao-Tzu said “the more laws one makes the more criminals one creates”.
Over and out.