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Gambia: Freedom of Speech and Expression Is Sacrosanct: Rights Can’t be Curtailed by Supreme Court

Freedom of Speech and Expression Is Sacrosanct: Rights Can’t be Curtailed by Supreme Court:

Written By Alagi Yorro Jallow.

Freedom of expression, of speech and of the press is sacrosanct, right of journalists should not be ordinarily interfered with a 7-judge bench led by Chief Justice of the Gambia. The rights of Journalist can’t be curtailed. If there must be any limitation that has to be as per the prescription in law… freedom of expression, of speech and the press is sacrosanct and should not be ordinarily interfere with the bench.

Freedom of speech and of expression and is a hallmark of democracy as its unfettered enjoyment contributes to functional democracy that encourages citizen participation for good governance and accountability. Every citizen is supposed to be protected. Sedition is where a person utters or publishes statements aimed at bringing hatred, contempt or disaffection against the President, the Government or the Judiciary.

This law on sedition are inconsistent with the Constitution, these are therefore null and void. This law on sedition had narrowed constitutional rights of journalists and the public at large.Sedition in the Penal Code, Sections 41 (publishing false news with intent to cause fear or alarm to the public), 51 (seditious intention) and 52 (false publication). These are provisions to criminalize any form of expression which the government thinks are insulting to the president or portrays the government as bad.

Sedition is a draconian piece of law conceived and used by the colonial masters to deny oppressed peoples from demanding their freedom and holding them to account. This archaic law has been weaponized to oppress the indigenous people and has continued to be weaponize by two presidents born at independence] against their own people. Both President Jammeh and Barrow further expanded this colonial law to ensure that no one could speak his or her opinion against the President. For example, Section 51(1)(a) in the Criminal Code defines Seditious Intention as any intention that “bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the person of the President, or the Government of The Gambia as by law established.”

“No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man’s permission when we require him to obey it. Obedience to the law is demanded as a right; not asked as a favor.”Theodore Roosevelt reiterated that “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president… is morally treasonable to the American public.” John F. Kennedy reinforced the need freedom of expression in a democratic country that “Without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed — and no republic can survive”

These sage words from two American Presidents who understood that democratic foundations are rooted in freedom of expression and of speech, fair and independent rule of law enforcement.

The power of speech cannot be underrated. It gives voice to the hopes, dreams, ambitions and aspirations of a people. It is sacred. Any attempt to silence this, no matter how well-intentioned, must be resisted by all Gambians of good will. Let us not leave the responsibility of guarding our hard-earned freedom of expression to others. We ought to take ownership of this precious right and all that it entails. Gambians must jealously guard the gains that our forefathers struggled so too hard to achieve.

There once was a time when the Gambia proudly boasted that it was the nation of law and order during the First Republic. During the Second Republic those assertions tainted with the stain of hypocrisy. Encouraged by President Barrow’s government with evidence-free mudslinging by people who you would have thought would have known better.

But like a looming iceberg threatening our ship has sought complicity rather than justice from the Supreme Court. This kind of behavior is anathema to our national principles. The stench of authoritarianism grows more pungent.

I do not believe most Gambian people will abide this. History will not be kind to those who seek to undermine freedom of expression and speech.

I have found that cover ups, especially of the brazenness and consequence hinted at by recent Supreme Court rulings, do not stay hidden for very long. And the truth will not be pretty in the verdict of posterity.

Sovereign people should not make Presidents as demi-god. There are no special laws for the president. Every citizen is equal before the law unless otherwise.
A law granting special protection against defamation or insult of public officials is an anachronism that cannot be justified in a modern democracy. It is now well established under international law that such officials should tolerate more, rather than less, criticism than ordinary citizens. Laws granting them higher protection must be abolished.
Protecting Presidents or public officials from criticism solely because of their function or status cannot be reconciled with modern democracy and violates both international conventions om freedom of expression standards.
The Gambia and other members of the African Union should emulate Kenya and Uganda  repeal sections of the penal code that impede the enjoyment of freedom of expression that individuals should not be criminalized for merely expressing themselves. By criminalizing ‘insulting the President’ will threaten even newspaper cartoonists for their satirical art work. Every civilized society’s constitution guarantee freedom of expression which include criticizing the President.
For every intent and purposes, these “insult” laws have become moribund worldwide and represents the old-school of thought – that a King cannot err! That the crown is infallible!
In a long-sustained democracy like Senegal, criminal sanctions remain available for defamation and that those sanctions are almost four times higher when defaming public officials as opposed to private individuals. African governments need to abolish all anachronistic provisions of freedom of expression and speech laws and bring its legislation in compliance with international freedom of expression standards.
Freedom of Expression is a fundamental right to be enjoyed by all citizens that individuals should not be criminalized for merely expressing themselves. In democracy, we should be very accommodating of criticizing. Laws such as these [insulting the President] have no place in a democracy that guarantees freedom of expression.

The right to freedom of expression is recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 19 of the ICCPR states that “Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

Sedition laws violate Section 1 subsection 2 of the Gambia Constitution, which states that the sovereignty of the Gambia resides in the people and the state derives its legitimacy from the people. Sedition laws also directly violate Section 25 of our Constitution, which is an entrenched clause, as well as Section 207, which guarantees the freedom of the media

The right to free speech is inalienable. Freedom of speech is the political right to communicate one’s opinions and ideas. This includes any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used. In practice, the right to freedom of speech is not absolute and is commonly subject to limitations, as with libel, slander, obscenity, sedition (including, for example inciting ethnic hatred), copyright violation or revelation of information that is classified.

From: Freedom Newspaper

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