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About the latest Criminal Code amendments

Sep 10, 2014, 10:40 AM

It has been published prominently in one of the local newspapers, but it escaped us. The import of the latest amendments to the Criminal Code did not dawn on us until our attention was drawn to the contents of a bill recently passed by the National Assembly in Banjul.

After obtaining and closely scrutinizing the bill presented by the Justice minister, we realized the following:

Henceforth, a “state official” who travels abroad “under a government-sponsored programme or on a mission as a representative of The Gambia”, and decides to stay there and not return home could be regarded as having committed the offence of “absconding”.

The new addition to the Criminal Codes says this will be the case if the person “refuses to return home on completion of his or her mission”.

The Justice minister told the National Assembly meeting in Banjul recently that such a law “is necessitated by the increasing trend of public officers absconding after they have been away on government-sanctioned missions”.

We are not aware that this is happening, much more to speak of an “increasing trend.” Are you?

In any case, the law says any person convicted will pay as much as half-a-million dalasis in addition to going to prison for five years. Is the sentence not too harsh?

What we can say is that it is, for example, more than the punishment faced by first-time offenders convicted of possession of cannabis. The government reduced the fines and years of imprisonment for such offences, in a bill brought by the minister of the Interior to the National Assembly a few months ago. Whatever happened to the spirit which motivated that humane gesture?

Also it is, indeed, disturbing that rather than amend or repeal the laws to expand the national space for the unfettered exercise of freedom of expression etc. as advocated by media practitioners, we have new additions to the list of what we have been calling “draconian media laws” – rightly or wrongly – which creates new concerns for the advocates of a more open, liberal society with a free press.

For instance, the new Criminal Code amendments forbid “publishing” and “broadcasting” “pornography” – see our story on page 5.

As we have been saying about some of the “many” laws affecting the operations of the news media in this country, that is, the fact that we already have laws such as the law on defamation, was the purpose of the new law on pornography not already covered by the law on obscenity or obscene publications etc. Why do we always engage in re-inventing the wheel?

One could react to this opinion piece by pointing out that these concerns are being raised belatedly.

And that is definitely true!

Perhaps we need to pay more attention to government Green papers or the gazette, which gives advance notice of upcoming legislation, so that we could sound the alarm in good time.

This would enable members of society to react by studying the documents issued by the government, and make suggestions before a law is changed or a new law is introduced.

“Why do we always engage in re-inventing the wheel?”

The Point

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