The Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), the African Group of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), has filed a legal claim before the Court of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to challenge the repressive media laws which have created a pervasive culture of persecution, violence, and injustice against journalists in The Gambia.
“The FAJ has experienced first-hand the impact of President Jammeh’s oppressive media laws on journalists in The Gambia, “said FAJ Interim President Maria Luisa Rogerio, “ The ECOWAS Court has already criticised the impunity witnessed in the Hydara case, and we hope that that they will continue in this vein by handing down a strong precedent criticising the criminal laws that are currently being used to persecute, intimidate and harass journalists in The Gambia and compel the country to maintain an environment where journalists are able to perform their duties without impediment.”
The FAJ filed this case last Monday 07 December along with three Gambian reporters in exile, arguing that their right to freedom of expression has been violated, including through the use of criminal laws that prohibit criticism to be made of the government. The applicants say that the laws, which have their roots in colonial times when they were used to suppress dissent, are now specifically used to target journalists and human rights defenders. They ask the Court to make a declaration that their very existence violates the right to freedom of expression. Many Gambian journalists and human rights defenders have suffered torture as a consequence of them exercising their right to freedom of expression.
This case, supported by the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI), represents the first challenge to Gambia's criminal laws before an international court. MLDI Legal Director Nani Jansen said that “The Gambia’s maintaining of these criminal laws constitutes a wide-ranging violation of the rights of journalists, media outlets and the recipients of independent news in the country. A favourable judgment from the ECOWAS Court would set an important precedent for journalists and independent media in The Gambia and would oblige the government to meet its responsibilities under international human rights law. It would also have a positive impact on other ECOWAS nations, where similarly restrictive laws are being used to prosecute journalists.”
Since President Yahya Jammeh seized power in 1994, journalists in The Gambia have suffered arbitrary detention, criminal prosecution, and torture at the hands of security forces.. Over 110 Gambian journalists have fled the country since 1994 for fear of similar treatment. The ECOWAS Court in recent years has ruled against the Gambian government on a number of press freedom violations. Last year, the Court ordered the e Gambian government to conduct a meaningful investigation into the assassination in December 2004 of journalist Deyda Hydara, following a joint application by the journalist’s family and the International Federation of Journalists.
For more information, please contact FAJ Secretariat: +221 33 867 95 86/87
The FAJ represents 50,000 journalists in Africa