IFJ and FAJ Condemn the Over-Criminalising Media Bill in The Gambia

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its Africa group, the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), today strongly condemned the recent amendments made to the 2009 Information and Communication Act in The Gambia, relating to “internet offences” which was passed into law by the National Assembly on Wednesday, 3 July, 2013. Any person convicted under this law is liable to “a fine of three (3) million Dalasis (about 100,000 USD) or imprisonment for   15 years or to both the fine and imprisonment”.  According to the Information and Communication Amendment Act (2013) “A person commits an offence if he or she uses the internet to – spread false news against the government or public officials; incite dissatisfaction or instigate violence against the government or public officials; impersonate any public official; blackmail any person; or threaten  to commit a criminal offence against any person”. This section, according to the Act, shall apply to all persons without regard to the place from which the offence was committed. “The amendment in itself is a serious ploy to intimidate the general citizenry and journalists in particular from scrutinising government officials and reporting on their activities”, said Gabriel Baglo, Director of the IFJ Africa Office.  “This recent amendment to the Information and Communication Act, is  a serious divorce from the Constitution of The Gambia, which guarantees freedom of expression” added Baglo.  “This change to the 2009 Information and Communication Act in The Gambia is another big setback in the history of press freedom in this Country”, said Mohammed Garba, President of the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ). “We call on President Yahya Jammeh to engage the media community in the Gambia for an inclusive media bill that decriminalises libel and promotes ethical journalism” advised Garba.  “The amendment adopted by the National Assembly is loose and vague in its entirety and as such can deny citizens their inalienable right to information. Such amendments provoke suspicion of an inevitable crackdown on dissenting views and the media in general which cannot be justified under any circumstances”, commented a member of The Gambia Press Union, GPU. FAJ and IFJ therefore call on the Government of The Gambia to revoke this amendment to the Information and Communication Act as it contradicts the right to freedom of expression and of the press which are very essential pillars in the promotion of democracy and good governance. “Noting the significant role the internet plays in the gathering and dissemination of information as it relates to journalism, and the critical role that online media outlets play in the expression of divergent views, this amendment therefore aims to starve the Gambian populace from viable information” added Garba. FAJ represents more than 50.000 journalists in 40 countries in Africa The IFJ represents more than 600.000 journalists in 134 countries