attorney general and minister of Justice have said that The Gambia is among few
countries in the world where no journalist was reportedly arrested in
connection with their profession in 2017/18.
Abubacarr Ba Tambadou was speaking on Thursday at the start of a two-day consultative forum on Freedom of Expression and Information (FOE/I) for members of the bench and legal fraternity.
Organized by The Gambia Press Union (GPU) in collaboration with the Judiciary and The Gambia Bar Association, the forum seeks to raise awareness on FOE/I issues judges and lawyers could apply on their day-to-day work
Justice Minister reminded that there has been registered remarkable improvement with regards to freedom of expression and the media since the change of government. “These are all remarkable positive developments in this country and we must acknowledge and commend the government for opening up democratic practices.”
He however raised eyebrows relating to laws against publication of false news pursuant to Section 181 A of the Criminal Code which, he said remain valid but has not been used against anyone in this country since the change of government. “This indicates that the application of the law is reserved for only the most serious cases, as the law itself envisages by introducing the element of “materiality” into the falsity of the information or news,” he added.
Mr. Tambadou advised journalists that if they want to be taken serious by the public in whose name they seek to hold government accountable, they must at all times set high standards for themselves and adhere to journalistic ethics.
Justice Gibril B.S Janneh, a high court judge said that Freedom of Expression and Information for a very long time has been a norm in civilized and democratic states.
“Freedom of information legislation allows the general public access to information held by government. The emergence of freedom of information laws was in response to increase satisfaction with the secrecy surrounding government’s policy development and decision-making.”
Femi Falana, senior Nigerian lawyer lauded Gambia’s new democratic dispensation especially in the area of human rights, noting that the country is one of the leads in the area of defense of human rights today. “I hope Gambians will be vigilant and ensure that we will not go out of the lead,” he said.
He also stated however that 22 African countries have enacted access to information law of which The Gambia is not part of. He thus expressed optimism that the government will take steps to ensure that the freedom of information law is passed.
Sheriff Bojang Jnr, president of GPU said Freedom of Expression and Information does not affect only the media, but affects everyone.
Also speaking, Salieu Taal, a high court judge, who doubles as president of GBA declared that Freedom of Expression is guaranteed by the constitution as a fundamental human right, adding that it is seen as the bedrock of all fundamental rights in a democracy. “The fact that we are holding this meeting speaks volume of how far we have come in the last 2 years or so. It is without a doubt that one of the surest ways of safeguarding and consolidating our democracy is to ensure that Freedom of Expression is not only upheld as a fundamental right but jealously guarded by all the stakeholders and guardians of our democracy.”