Gambia Media Laws Challenged at ECOWAS Court

The Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) and three Gambian journalists on 7 December filed a legal claim before the Lawyer AyereECOWAS Community Court of Justice to challenge laws relating to the media in The Gambia which violate the right to freedom of expression.

The FAJ, the African Group of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), revealed this in a press release.

There are currently four Applicants: the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) and three Gambian journalists who currently live in exile outside of The Gambia. The press release has not indicated the names of the Gambian journalists.

The Applicants argue that the continued maintenance, by The Gambia, of its criminal laws on sedition, defamation and prohibiting the publication of ‘false news’ represses press freedom and violates its citizens’ human rights. Among the relevant provisions of the criminal law being challenged are: provisions of the Criminal Code of 2009 which establish criminal offences relating to sedition; provisions of the Criminal Code of 2009 which establish the criminal offence of unlawful publication of libel; and provisions of the Information and Communications Act (as amended) which provide for the criminal offence of publication of false news or information.

The claim of the applicants is that their right to freedom of expression has been violated, including “the use of criminal laws that prohibit criticism to be made of the government.” The applicants say that the laws, which have their roots in colonial times when they were used to suppress dissent, are now specifically used to target journalists and human rights defenders. They ask the Court to make a declaration that their very existence violates the right to freedom of expression.

The ECOWAS Court has jurisdiction to determine cases of violation of human rights that occur in any member state. The ECOWAS Court was established in 1991 and has jurisdiction in all Member states.