The Gambia’s Internet Law: RSF very disturbed, Amnesty International shocked

8 Jul
Information Minister Nana Grey Johnson blames media for reporting negatively on The Gambia, which is according to him, is depriving country of investors, fails to discuss draconian media laws, closure of media houses, and need for freedom of information law – but says his Ministry hopes “to forge a dependable and credible Government- Media partnership” (Photo Credit: MSJoof/Globe/FPI)

 Both RSF and AI have criticized the passing of the new law by The Gambia, a tiny West African country where media laws have since been described as “draconian”. Information Minister, Nana Grey Johnson presided over the passing of the Information and Communication (adjusted) Act 2013. (Photo Credit: MSJoof/TNBES/Globe/FPI)

By Modou S. Joof

The free press and free expression agency, Reporters Without Borders, RSF, has said it is very disturbed by The Gambia’s new Information and Communication (amendment)Act 2013 – which imposes lengthy jail term and heavy fines for persons “spreading false news” on the internet.
While another watchdog Amnesty International said the new bill takes the restriction of freedom of expression in The Gambia to a “shocking new level”.
Both agencies have criticized the passing of the new law by The Gambia, a tiny West African country where media laws have since been described as “draconian”. 
Complete overhaul 
The adjusted Information and Communication Act 2009 which was passed by the National Assembly in Banjul on July 3 – allows for a fine of D3 million (about USD$100,000) or imprisonment for fifteen years or to both fine and imprisonment – to anyone convicted of using the internet to spread false news about the Government or public officials.

On Friday, RSF said it was “very disturbed” by amendments to the 2009 Information and Communications Act – the main law limiting freedom of information in The Gambia.

“The amendments to the Information and Communications Act that the Gambian parliament has just adopted aggravate what is already one of Africa’s most repressive laws,” the agency said.

“The authorities are using these amendments to target news providers and crack down on the internet, one of the last spaces for freedom of information in Gambia,” it added. “We call for their immediate withdrawal and a complete overhaul of the law, which already gags the media in the name of state security.”

Shocking new level 
According to Amnesty International, the new law is an outrageous attack on freedom of expression.

“By attempting to repress dissent even on the internet, the new bill takes the restriction of freedom of expression in The Gambia to a shocking new level,” Amnesty International Africa Deputy Director, Lucy Freeman, said.

Amnesty laments that the new law means a simple cartoon or satirical comedy could carry up to 15 years in jail and a fine of up to of three million Dalasi (about £54,500).

While the bill imposes penalties for “instigating violence against the government or public officials”, it also targets individuals who “caricature or make derogatory statements against officials” or “impersonate public officials”.

The Gambia’s Minister of Information, Communication, and Information Infrastructure, Nana Grey-Johnson, said the bill seeks to serve as a deterrent.

“This Bill seeks to provide for the deterrent punishment of such persons who are engaged in such treacherous campaigns against The Gambia both internally and outside The Gambia,” he said last Wednesday shortly before the Assembly approves the new bill.
He claims that “In the recent past, some citizens have waged concerted efforts to pit the people and the security officials of The Gambia against their Government.”
The bill is expected to be accented to by President Yahya Jammeh in the coming days.

The Gambia’s  National Assembly was previously criticised for an April 16 amendment of Section 114 of the Criminal Code which imposes a jail term of five years or a fine of D50, 000 (about USD1, 650) on persons convicted of giving false information.
That law previously allowed a jail term of not more than six months or a fine of D500 (about USD17) or both.

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