By Alagi Yorro Jallow
Freedom of Expression is a hallmark of democracy as its unfettered enjoyment contributes to functional democracy that encourages citizen participation for good governance and accountability.
Every citizen is supposed to be protected. Sovereign people should not make Presidents as demi-god.
There are no special laws for any President. Every citizen is equal before the law unless otherwise.
A law granting special protection against defamation or insult of public officials is an anachronism that cannot be justified in a modern democracy.
It is now well established under international law that such officials should tolerate more, rather than less, criticism than ordinary citizens. Laws granting them higher protection must be abolished.
Protecting Presidents or public officials from criticism solely because of their function or status cannot be reconciled with modern democracy and violates both international conventions om freedom of expression standards.
President Macky Sall and his colleagues in the African Union should repeal sections of the Penal Code that impede the enjoyment of freedom of expression that individuals should not be criminalized for merely expressing themselves.
By criminalizing ‘insulting the President’ will threaten even newspaper cartoonists for their satirical artwork.
Every civilized society’s constitution guarantee freedom of expression which include criticizing the President.
For every intent and purposes, these “insult” laws have become moribund worldwide and represents the old-school of thought – that a King cannot err! That the crown is infallible!
The former editor of West African Magazine Adama Gaye was charged on, July,312019 with “offending the head of state” in a series of Facebook posts targeting President Macky Sall.
Mr. Gaye has also been charged with “maneuvers and acts that might compromise public security” and will be held in the capital Dakar’s Rebeuss prison.
Gaye describes himself as an activist for “justice, transparency and progress” and has written numerous articles accusing the government of mismanagement, particularly in the oil and gas sector which is set for major expansion in the coming years.
However, in recent weeks he has posted several strident Facebook posts about the private life of the president and those around him.
Gaye was brought in for questioning on July 22, 2019 by Dakar’s criminal investigation division for “putting out stories contrary to good morals” as well as offending the president.
He said he was “a political detainee held for his writing about exact facts, questions that are vital for the national sovereignty of Senegal, particularly the management of hydro-carbon resources.”
He was referring to his articles and posts about a scandal over oil and gas contracts that has shaken the political establishment since a BBC report on the subject was broadcast in early June.
Last year, Assane DIOUF, musician Amy Collé DIENG, Penda BA and Oulèye MANE were arrested by elements of the Criminal Investigation Division (DIC) after broadcasting audio elements on which was meant to attack virulently defaming President Macky Sall.
They have all become casualties of “insulting the President law” or internet libel laws in Senegal consequently, and imperatively they suffer the consequences from the insult law.
In a long-sustained democracy like Senegal, criminal sanctions remain available for defamation and that those sanctions are almost four times higher when defaming public officials as opposed to private individuals.
African governments need to abolish all anachronistic provisions of freedom of expression and speech laws and bring its legislation in compliance with international freedom of expression standards.
Freedom of Expression is a fundamental right to be enjoyed by all citizens that individuals should not be criminalized for merely expressing themselves.
In democracy, we should be very accommodating of criticizing.
Laws such as these (insulting the President) have no place in a democracy that guarantees freedom of expression.