Thursday, February 25, 2010

Special Rapporteur On Freedom Of Information

NEWS BANJUL, THE GAMBIA(MB)- A report covering the decriminalised defamatory activities undertaken by the Special Rapporteur on “Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa,” during the inter-session period, May 2009 to November 2009, was made available at the 46th Ordinary Session held in The Gambia from 11- 25 November, 2009.
According to the report, the Special Rapporteur had sent three letters of appeal, and one letter of appreciation to the Republic of The Gambia during the Inter-Session, on 22nd June 2009, and forwarded an appeal letter to the Republic of The Gambia, addressing the deterioration of freedom of expression in the country.
The Rapporteur made reference to the alleged warning made by President Yahya Jammeh, to Imam Baba Leigh, the Imam of Kanifing mosque on 22 May, 2009, while addressing a rally, to desist from publicly criticising him.
In addition, it also cited the alleged warning he made to media practitioners that they would face legal action if they reported any remarks made by the Imam.
On the recent case of the six journalists, in her appeal, the Special Rapporteur mentioned that the journalists, arrested on 15 June 2009, were alleged to have been detained incommunicado. The journalists were charged with conspiracy to publish and publishing seditious publication “with intent to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the person of the President of the Republic of The Gambia, and conspiracy to commit criminal defamation with intent to bring the President of the Republic of The Gambia and the Government of The Gambia into contempt and ridicule.”
According to the report, on 20 July 2009, the Special Rapporteur forwarded another letter of appeal to the Republic of The Gambia where she restated her appeal to the Republic of The Gambia as a state party to the African Charter, to decriminalise media related offences and to amend any existing laws on defamation in conformity with Principle XII of the Declaration, which provides that “no one shall be found liable for true statements, opinions or statement regarding public figures, which it was reasonable to make in the circumstances, public figures shall be required to tolerate a greater degree of criticisim, and sanctions shall never be so severe to inhibit the right to freedom of expression, including by others.”
In subsequently sentencing the six journalists: Ms Sarata Jabbi-Dibba, Mr. Emil Touray, Mr. Pa Modou Fall, Mr. Pap Saine, Mr. Ebrima Sawaneh, and Mr. Sam Sarr by the High Court of The Gambia on 6 August, 2009, the Special Rapporteur forwarded a joint appeal to the President of The Gambia, together with the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa.
The two Special Rapporteurs were particularly concerned about the imprisonment of Ms. Sarata Jabbi-Dibba, and her seven-months-old baby. The appeal stated that Sections 368, 51 (1) (a), read together with 52 (1) (c), and 178 of the Criminal Code Cap 10 Vol. II, Laws of The Republic of The Gambia, which deals with criminal libel and defamation, and which the High Court Judge relied on in sentencing the journalists, were incompatible with and contravenes international and regional guarantees of freedom of expression.
The Special Rapporteur called on the government of The Gambia to repeal these laws and bring them in line with international and regional standards, and also for the President of The Gambia to use his power to pardon the journalists that were imprisoned and release them from jail. Further to this appeal, the journalists were released by virtue of a presidential pardon.
In appreciation, the Rapporteurs stated that on 9 September, 2009, a joint letter was forwarded to the Republic of The Gambia by the Special Rapporteurs.
In another letter of appreciation, the Special Rapporteurs affirmed that “the release of the journalists is a demonstration of the Republic of The Gambia’s desire to engage with relevant human rights stakeholders on the continent and beyond, as well as its commitment to the promotion of human rights in general and freedom of expression, as well as the rights of women and children in particular.”
Finally, the Special Rapporteur also conveyed her gratitude to the President of The Gambia, for accepting her request to undertake a promotion mission in the country.
On 13 July, 2009, the Special Rapporteur received a response from the government of The Gambia with regards to the allegations concerning the Imam of Kanifing, and the incommunicado detention of journalists.
The government refuted all the allegations asserting that “the Gambian press has always carried stories on diverse issues, including publications made by Imam Baba Leigh.”
With regards to the arrest of the journalists, the government of The Gambia submitted that the journalists did not plead to the charges because they had no counsel to represent them.
On the issue of bail, the government stated that the Director of Public Prosecutions objected to their bail on the grounds that they were likely to commit a similar offence, but that the Magistrate granted bail to Sarata Jabbi-Dibba, a lactating ,mother.

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