The first Gambian female presidential contender Dr. Isatou Touray has said if elected to the nation’s highest office, she will promote freedom of expression and the media by repealing repressive laws seditious and false publication laws that have seen many journalists sent to jail in the West African nation.
Touray, a renowned activist accused President Jammeh of stifling dissent and cracking down on journalists for merely doing their job.
“I will carry out comprehensive reform of the media laws and repeal all draconian laws, especially the criminal defamation, false news and sedition provisions to comply with the provisions of our constitution and the Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa,” she said
The Gambia amended its laws to introduce a 15-year jail time and a fine of USD $100,000 for individuals found using the internet to spread “false news or make derogatory statements, incite dissatisfaction, or instigate violence” against the government or public officials. The penalties apply to individuals living in the country and abroad.
The new law was introduced as The Gambia’s government faced increasing opposition from the diaspora.
“It is the first time a presidential candidate has come up with a clearly outlined plan addressing the problems we Gambian journalists face,” said a Gambian journalist who wishes remain anonymous. “Her plans are aligned to what we in the media have been trying to address with the current government for decades.”
Touray’s campaign said when elected, she will grant access to UN Special Rapporteurs and right groups to guarantee the protection of the media, access to information and freedom of expression.
Gambian journalists have limited themselves with self-censorship due to the many defamation laws. Private media houses have been closed without warning forcing many to go into music and sports programming to avoid their licenses from being revoked.
“Also the journalists in the state and private media are limited and constrained by censorship to critically engage in raising consciousness on national issues and concern. It is urgent to replace criminal defamation laws with civil laws that ensure greater compliance with international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Right,” her campaign said.
The lack of information, especially programming on political matters has forced the country into a state of political apathy.
She supported renewed calls to bring the newspaper with information and communication regulations in line with the country’s constitution and international norms.
Touray’s plan we presented to media analysts said it seeks to reduce the exorbitant fees and taxes associated with operating a media business but most importantly, they added it will create jobs as more new media houses will emerge and strengthen the country’s democracy.
The Gambia is one of the least media free nations in the world. Rights group said the government does not respect free expression and media rights with journalists are frequently arrested and detained on flimsy and superficial charges.