ARTICLE 19 welcomes the 14 February 2018 landmark decision by the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), ruling that the Government of the Gambia must repeal laws on criminal defamation, sedition, and false news. We urge the government to implement this decision as a priority, and recognise its duty to protect the rights of journalists and the public to speak out freely on issues of public interest.
The set of laws on sedition, false news and defamation, which enable the criminalisation of legitimate expression, were used in the case against the four journalists Fatou Camara, Fatou Jaw Manneh, Alhagie Jobe, and Lamin Fatty, who were arrested and tortured by the previous government. The laws were found to have violated freedom of the press and access to information, according to the court. The case was brought against the Government by the Federation of African Journalists and supported by the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) on behalf of the four journalists in December 2015.
As set out in the Amicus Brief supported by ARTICLE 19 and other human rights groups at the ECOWAS Court in May 2016, the ruling by the Court re-affirms the universal free expression principle that criticism of government and government officials must be accorded heightened protection, and that such criticism is indispensable in a free society.
It is therefore essential that the ruling is fully implemented as part of the country’s transition to fully democratic governance and the rule of law. We believe this ruling further underscores the need for an immediate review of current laws that impede the work of journalists and stifle the rights of citizens to engage in public debate, and we urge the government to pursue this task and conclude it without delay.