International human rights and media rights NGOs have been swift to react to the bill amending the Information and Communications Act which was passed last week by the National Assembly. The bill provides for fines of up to 3 million dalasi and imprisonment for up to 15 years.
Amnesty International in its statement titled, “The Gambia: New bill stifles online dissent,” described the bill as an attack on freedom of expression. “By attempting to repress dissent even on the internet, the new bill takes the restriction of freedom of expression in the Gambia to a shocking new level,” said Lucy Freeman, Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International. Amnesty International argues that the amendment means that a simple cartoon or satirical comedy could carry up to 15 years in jail and a fine of up to three million Dalasi (approx £54,500).
The statement added that the Bill also targets individuals who “caricature or make derogatory statements against officials” or “impersonate public officials”. The human rights NGO opined that after shutting down radio stations and newspapers and expelling foreign journalists, the government has now come for the internet. Reporters Without Borders (RSF), on the other hand, in its press release dated 5 July 2013, titled “Internet users targeted by changes to information law” stated that it is very disturbed by amendments to the 2009 Information and Communications Act which the National Assembly passed on 3 July.
The freedom of expression NGO noted, that the amendments to the Information and Communications Act that the Gambian parliament has just passed aggravate the law on the media. RSF opined that the amended law can be used to target news providers and crack down on the Internet, one of the last spaces for freedom of information in Gambia. They called for the withdrawal of the amendment and the revocation of other laws inimical to freedom of expression. The amendments were proposed by information and communication minister Nana Grey-Johnson, who said their aim was the “deterrent punishment” of persons who engage in “treacherous campaigns” at home and abroad and incite “unpatriotic behaviour.”
By Ousman Njie