Declaration of Principles on FOE in Africa Observed

By Kebba Jeffang

Freedom of expression defender Article 19 with stakeholders, Thursday held a side event to celebrate 15 years of the declaration of the principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, as part of the 61st Ordinary Session of African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The celebration was done to evaluate the impact of the declaration on the state of Freedom of Expression in Africa and strategies on better implementation of its principles.

The event was attended by senior cabinet ministers and the special rapporteur on freedom of expression in Africa, on November 2nd at Senegambia hotel.

Pansy Tlakula, the outgoing chairperson of the ACHPR who also doubles as special rapporteur on freedom of expression and access to information for the Commission said, the Gambia is an example to all oppressive leaders that one cannot oppress people forever.

She hailed the new Government for bringing back hope and courage to the people of the Gambia.

“What happened in the Gambia shows that leaders cannot oppress their people forever. People will rise and fight oppression. We have seen it in this country,” she said.

The Minister of Information and Communication Infrastructure Demba Ali Jawo, while welcoming participants paid tribute to the late Deyda Hydara who was gunned down in December 2004. He described Deyda as a champion and promoter of press freedom and freedom of expression.

Jawo said he blamed the former government saying if it had respected certain principles on the declaration of principles on FOE, the circumstances surrounding disappearances of Chief Ebrima Manneh, the detention and exile of several Gambian journalists as well as illegal shutting down of media outlets would not have happened.

“The approach and manner in which the former government treated the press and journalists speaks volumes,” he said.

Jawo said it is the responsibility of his government to make sure the principles of the declaration are applied for the safety of journalists and social commentators.

For the new Government, he said they will make sure that rights of journalists, the right to freedom of speech and expression and access to information as well, will become a reality for all Gambians.

“I can assure you that since our appointments (that is the Justice Minister and myself), our two ministries and partners like Article 19 who have been present in the Gambia and pushing for media law reform to protect journalists and to ensure the free flow of information and divergent views.

It is also our intention to engage cabinet on the decisions taken by the ECOWAS Court in respect to the late Deyda Hydara, Chief Ebrima Manneh and Musa Saidykhan, to make sure that although justice delayed, but it will not be denied,” he assured.

The Information Minister said the last 22 years of the repressive regime had deliberately dismantled structures so that they can entrench themselves and deprived the public from their right to know. He pointed out that it is an enormous task to re-establish state-media relationship.

Attorney General and Justice Minister Aboubacarr Tambadou, said Jammeh’s era in relation to the media will enable them to learn appropriate lessons and is assured that they will work closely with the media. He said there is already an existing good relation with the media which they are willing to even strengthen.

The Secretary General of the Gambia Press Union Saikou Jammeh shared his impression with the new Government-media relationship. He said although laws are yet to change, there is progress because there is freedom.

“On impunity, a day like this is very good to remember people like Deyda Hydara, a prominent journalist that was gunned down. It is very good to remember Chief Manneh, a young man who had a whole world ahead of him and still we do not know where he is. It is very good to remember people like Omar Barrow and arson attacks on journalists and their properties. There were imprisonments and exiles. It is good to remember these things,” he said.

The event was moderated by Fatou Jagne Senghore of Article 19.