Activists are urging Gambia’s new government to repeal restrictive media laws that have sent tens of journalists to exile and prison during the regime of former president, Yahya Jammeh.
Gambia’s reputation as a serious offender of press freedom and freedom of expression was consolidated in 2013. Freedom House says a mix of new legislation, ongoing harassment of the independent press, and arrests combined to increase the state’s control of an already weak media sector.
Jammeh ignored calls for accountability regarding past cases of murder and abuse targeting journalists.
Journalists in the Gambia are on Wednesday celebrating the World Press Freedom Day for the first time since the strongman’s shocking defeat in last year’s election.
Gambia amended it communications act to criminalize the spreading “false news against the government or public officials” with prison sentences of up to 15 years or a fine of approximately US$100,000 on the internet.
“This cyber crime law which was enacted by the previous regime will not only deprive Gambians of their constitutionally guaranteed liberties, it will deprive them of their place in the world as it has evolved,” said Yero Jallow, a former senior Gambian journalist.
Gambia’s press union is challenging defamation and libel laws in the Supreme Court, which will start hearing May 15. The West African nation’s new Information and Communication Minister, Demba Jawo is supportive of the union’s bid.
Rights groups are urging new President Adama Barrow to quickly implement reforms that will break the country from its brutal past. Tens of journalist have returned to the Gambia since Jammeh’s ouster and now rebuilding their lives and getting back to work.