The Supreme Court of The Gambia yesterday passed a landmark judgment declaring that laws on sedition, false publication and broadcasting are constitutional and should stay in the law books much to the disappointment of the Gambia Press Union who wanted them removed for being anti-press.
The Court said the law that the journalists consider draconian offers reasonable restriction necessary in a democratic society.
However the 5-member panel of jury led by Chief Justice Hassan Jallow also upheld that sedition should only cover the presidency and not the Government.
Meanwhile, the country’s top court has declared criminal the 2013 information and communications act, which applies to the internet as unconstitutional.
The law has been enacted by the National Assembly in 2013 and it is considered Gambia’s toughest media law which prescribes15-year jail term or a fine of D3 million for anyone found guilty of spreading false news on the internet.
Hawa Sisay Sabally, the lawyer for GPU told journalists following the verdict that the challenge to sedition is successful in part.
“The aspect that deals with the Government was held by the Supreme Court to be unconstitutional but they have offered protection to the president. The second part that deals with the president is constitutional. So in so far as it relates to the president, sedition remains a law in the country,” Sabally said.
“Law on defamation has been taken out and the laws relating to the internet such as false news and caricature of public officials has also been struck out…
“What happens is that speech will no longer be criminalized in this country and inasmuch as we have sedition still in the books in a limited form, I think we can safely say that journalists can enjoy their work now. Those factors that used to deter them in doing their work will no longer be there.”
But the for press union, the battle against what they consider bad media laws is not over yet.
The president of the GPU, Emil Touray, said the Union may consider ‘filing an application for the court to review its decision’.
“We are elated that the Supreme Court has declared criminal defamation and false publication unconstitutional. We are, however, sad that sedition and false publication and broadcasting are retained in the criminal code,” Touray said.
Moments after the court decisions were delivered, the Secretary General of the Gambia Press Union (GPU), Saikou Jammeh, posted on his Facebook page:
“The Supreme Court’s decision is bad news for New Gambia, outrageous and unacceptable. The Gambia Press Union is committed and will consider measures seeking to overturn the decision by the court on laws used to suppress free speech and restrict the freedom and independence of the media.”
“There is good news though. Criminal defamation and false publication on the internet have meanwhile been declared on unconstitutional by the Supreme Court,” he added.
Culled from Kerr Fatou