(JollofNews) –The Supreme Court of the Gambia will Monday hear a legal challenge by the Gambia Press Union (GPU) to the Amended Criminal Code 2004, which imposes mandatory prison sentences for media owners and journalists who criticise the president and government officials.
The 2004/2005 amended Criminal Code provides for harsher fines of between 50,000 and 250,000 Gambian Dalasis (approximately £1,000-£5,000) and/or a minimum term of one year imprisonment for the offence of seditious publication, publication of false news, libel and criminal defamation.
The laws also raised the registration bond from 100,000 to 500,000 Gambian Dalasis (approximately £11,000) which newspapers and private radio stations are required to post as surety against fines or damages, which may be imposed in future by a court in sedition, false news or civil defamation cases against journalists.
The Gambia Press Union (GPU) said the laws are fundamentally flawed and incompatible with the 1997 constitution of the Gambia, which protects and guarantees press freedom and freedom of expression.
It said since the laws were introduced, they have resulted in arrests, physical and verbal intimidation, and even journalists being tortured, as well as the arbitrary closure of media houses.
The government has refused pressure from right groups and international organisations to repeal the laws which it said are necessary to curb the excesses of the media. It has also passed successive legislation in recent years which further restricts the right to freedom of expression in the small West African country, described by media organisations as one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.
In July 2013, the National Assembly passed the Information and Communication (Amendment) Act, allowing for penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment and hefty fines for offences including: criticising government officials online; spreading “false news” about the government or public officials; making derogatory statements against public officials; and inciting dissatisfaction or instigating violence against the government.
In May 2013, the National Assembly passed the Criminal Code (Amendment) Act, broadening the definition of various offences and imposing harsher punishments for acts of public disorder, such as “hurling abusive insults” or “singing abusive songs”, and for giving false information to a public servant. For example, the Act increased the punishment for providing false information to a public servant from six months’ to five years’ imprisonment and/or a larger fine.