EYEAFRICA TV: Banjul, The Gambia: Former President Yahya Jammeh and his government’s hostility to journalists and the media practice in totality has been brought to a public discuss by the country’s Justice Minister Abubacarr M. Tambadou during the validation of access to information bill at a local hotel on Wednesday.
Minister Tambadou, who was represented by State Counsel Naffie Sissoho at the validation confirmed that the exiled former dictator’s government was ‘hostile’ to members of the fourth estate.
“The former regime exhibited gross hostility to media practitioners with numerous legislations introduced to suppress freedom of expression and its treatment to journalists,” he said.
During Mr Jammeh’s 22-year rule of the tiny West African state with a population of just over 2 million people, several journalists went into exile for fear of arrest, torture of disappearance without trace for criticizing his government.
His regime has been accused of grievous human right violations, including torture and killing of both civilians and security personnel and corruption. Mr Jammeh exhibited a life of luxury throughout his term while average Gambians lived in poverty and fear.
Minister Tambadou said media practitioners were operating under continuous harassment and oppressive laws and the 1944 Newspaper Act, 1933 Criminal Code and the 2009 Information and Communication Act were all subjected to amendments with harsh and abusive provisions designed to stifle the right to freedom of expression and information.
In a testimony before the President Barrow instituted Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) in August, Warrant Officer Class 1 Alieu Jeng, a member of Mr Jammeh’s hit-squad (junglers) confessed to taking active role in the killing of veteran journalist and co-founder and primary editor of The Point Newspaper Deyda Hydara on 16 December 2004.
According to minister Tambadou, the Bill will promote transparency, accountability, good governance and development by educating people about their rights, support sustainable development goals in respect to access to information, ensure transparency.
“In recognition of the democratic right to freedom of expression, the government of The Gambia wishes to ensure that all laws relating to freedom of expression are consistent with the Constitution and international best practices.”
In his 2019 State of the National address at the National Assembly in September, President Adama Barrow said his government, through the Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure was formulating a National ICT Master Plan to guide ICT implementation in country.
He also announced that with support from the Council of Europe, his government was also developing legislation on Cybercrime and Electronic Evidence and Data Protection and Privacy. “In the same vein, a comprehensive review of the 2009 ICT Act is in progress. The review seeks to make the Act more relevant to the ICT sector. The exercise includes review of the draconian media laws to allow for freedom of expression in the country,” he said.
Gambia Press Union president Sheriff Bojang Jnr, said with access to information, there is lot to gain and lot to win collectively as a nation and as a people, saying without access to information, people will be losing many things, including basic information from health, agriculture, foreign services among others.
Salieu Taal, President of Gambia Bar Association said they want to have an information law that all of them will be proud of and which will put The Gambia on the map as the human right capital in Africa.
Hawa Sisay-Sabally, a lawyer who drafted the bill said, “In drafting the access to information bill, I took into consideration of Gambia’s obligation to international law particularly the African charter.”
She said one of the obligations is that all the rights in the charter must be given effect to by state parties, adding that one of such rights are right to access to information.