Gambia govt files preliminary objection at Ecowas Court

The Government of The Gambia on 4 January 2016 filed a preliminaryEcowas Court
objection at the ECOWAS Community Court urging the court to strike out
or dismiss the current case against it.
The International Federation of Journalists and three Gambians on 7December 2015 filed a legal claim before the ECOWAS Community Court of
Justice to challenge laws relating to the media in The Gambia which
‘violate the right to freedom of expression.’
The plaintiffs 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.
However the Gambia Government in its preliminary objection argues that
the ECOWAS Court does not have the jurisdiction to determine the matter and
should therefore dismiss or strike out the case. Its grounds are that
the IFJ does not have the right or capacity to take it to the Ecowas
Court. Other grounds are that the court cannot deal with the
plaintiffs’ claims either because they are out of time or not within
its competence. Another ground is that the trial is an affront to the
internal sovereignty of the government.