By MUHAMMED S. BAH
The Gambia Press Union (GPU) on Thursday, 11 August, 2016, started a two day training of Gambian legal practitioners and law students at the University of The Gambia (UTG) on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information at the TANGO conference hall in Fajara.According to the organisers, this training is one component of the one year project of the GPU funded by the Danish government through their Danish counterparts, to sensitise different partners on the importance of Freedom of Expression, Access to Information as a fundamental human right and its related issues.
In his introductory remarks, Bai Emil Touray, President GPU, underscored the importance of the training, noting that “Freedom of expression, like many fundamental human right values, is the business of everyone, more so people in the judiciary as well as those in the private chambers.”
Mr. Touray highlighted the importance of the participants, noting that their role is crucial, especially those from the ministry of justice, as they are the ones who draft the laws for the country.
Dilating on the objectives of the training, the GPU President said it is to sensitise legal practitioners on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information as a fundamental Human Right.
Mr. Touray also noted that Gambia is the only English speaking country in West Africa that has not yet promulgated freedom of information law which, he said, is a great concern. He added that GPU’s commited in championing the course by engaging partners and government to ensure that an information law is being considered.
He also cited some of the countries in Africa that have recently promulgated the Access to Information Law, such as Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Liberia.
“When we have such a kind of law enacted in the Gambia, then information will be accessible to lawyers, statisticians, journalists and even citizens of the country which will contribute positively to the socio economic development of the country,” he said.
The GPU president also noted that Gambia has progressively enacted laws on Children and Women, adding that this thing can also apply to Freedom of Expression and Access to Information.
Haddija Jawara, Training Assistant GPU, said this current GPU project is meant for building capacity and advocacy, adding that it has four components.
“One of the areas is for advocacy to repeal some of the media laws we have in the country, especially those that have to do with freedom of information and expression,” she said.
Madam Jawara said one of the things GPU is doing in relation to this project is to sensitise people on how to advocate for change when it comes to Freedom of Expression and Freedom of the Media.
“We already have training with the security forces and this one is with you the legal practitioners, and the next component will be members of the National Assembly, then after that we will have a National Forum on freedom of expression and information to see how we can repeal some of these media laws,” she added.
She also said that another component is with the Supreme Court.
She said GPU is looking forward to collaborate with partners in achieving their aims and objectives on access to information and freedom of expression.
For his part, Mansour Jobe, the Secretary General of the Young Lawyers Association of The Gambia, who also doubles as a resource person, expressed his gratitude to the GPU for coming up with this noble initiative and taking the responsibility for organising a seminar for lawyers on freedom of expression.
“I must say this seminar came at a time when issues like this are contemporary,” he said.
Mr. Jobe further underscored the importance of seminar for the legal practitioners as far as the respect of Human Rights is concern.
“Because members of the legal fraternity are in one way or the other connected to the enforcement, protection and the promulgation of Human Rights,” he underscored.
He also noted the importance of GPU’s effort in trying to work with the members of the National Assembly, who, he said, are principally assigned with the responsibility of making laws.
The Secretary General of the Young Lawyers Association of The Gambia, concluded by urging his colleagues to make the best use of the training.
Pap Saine, Managing Director of Point Newspaper, in his opening statement, hailed GPU for the efforts and commitment in promoting Freedom of Expression and Access to Information.
He cited some of the declarations that guarantee Freedom of Expression.
Mr. Saine also noted that many people abused freedom of expression, adding that freedom of expression has guidelines.
“We appeal to government for Gambia to enact the laws on press freedom. So this will help to guide its citizens. Gambia is a member of Article 19 of UN Convention. We need freedom of expression and press freedom but in line with the rules and regulations of the law of the land,” said the Point Newspaper Managing Director.
Left to right: Pap Saine, Point MD, and Bai Emil Touray, GPU President