16 February 2018

West Africa: GPU Welcomes ECOWAS Court Ruling On Anti-Free Speech Laws

Banjul, February 15: The Gambia Press Union (GPU) welcomes the ruling made by the Abuja-based Ecowas Court of Justice on Wednesday February 14, on the legality of the laws of sedition, criminal defamation, false publication on the internet and false publication and broadcasting.

In 2015, the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) along with four Gambian exiled journalists, namely Fatou Camara, Lamin Fatty, Alagie Jobe and Fatou Jaw Manneh, filed a suit against the Gambia government at the sub-regional court.

The complainants, in their prayers, sought an order from the court to condemn the Gambia's criminalisation of speech through sedition, false news and defamation laws.

Following three years of deliberations, the Ecowas Community Court, in its ruling, ordered the Gambia government to repeal or amend the said laws.

The court held that the enforcement of these anti-free speech laws is a violation of freedom of expression and press freedom and are not in line with regional and international standards of freedom of expression.

"This ruling by the Ecowas Court is timely. It comes at a time we are working closely with the government and other media stakeholders with a view to reforming the media laws," said GPU President, Bai Emil Touray.

"Moreover, these laws are also a subject of deliberation at the Supreme Court of The Gambia where we are expecting a judgment in the coming months. So, it is an important step in our drive to contribute to creating an enabling environment for press freedom as well as help the current administration to fulfill the promise it made to the electorate in the run up to the Presidential Elections held in December 2016.

He added: "The impact of the ruling goes beyond The Gambia. The decision will be a reference for countries across the Ecowas sub-region and hopefully, this will influence legal decision making on freedom of expression in other parts of the world."

Meanwhile, the GPU wishes to express thanks and appreciation to its parent body, the Federation of African Journalists, for accepting to take the lead in this case. The Union also wishes to commend and congratulate the four Gambian journalists who took up the challenge despite repercussions to them and their families.

Moreover, the Union wishes to thank the UK-based Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) for the initiative and the commitment and dedication devoted to not only this case, but also towards the Gambia media. The GPU is proud to have been associated with the case and has worked closely with FAJ and MLDI on the matter.

Furthermore, the Union wishes to express appreciation to the Gambia government for its cooperation. We urge the government to not relent in our collective efforts to creating an enabling environment for media freedom and development by implementing in full and without undue delay the decision of the court. The Union wishes to also remind the Government of the commitment it has made towards fulfilling the previous Ecowas Court decisions in favour of journalists Deyda Hydara, Chief Ebrima Manneh and Musa Saidykhan.


Saikou Jammeh, SG, GPU

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