Of Gambia’s Crack Down On Online Activism

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Fabakary Tombong Jatta

Majority leader Fabakary Tombong Jatta and co are on the wrong side of history!

The Gambia’s rubber-stamping national assembly has again done what it does best: massaging the ego of President Yahya Jammeh.

The enactment of a new bill that imposes lengthy prison sentences and hefty fines on anyone who criticizes government officials on the internet is a renewal of the Gambia government’s defiant assault on dissent.

The Gambia’s kangaroo courts have now got the leverage to send a person to jail for 15 years for merely posting anything that caricatures or makes derogatory statements against public officials or impersonates them online.

Ironically, the Information and Communication (Amendment) Act 2013, tabled before parliament by Information Minister Nana Gray-Johnson,  protects public officials against violence. It therefore imposes a fine of three million Dalasis on internet activists, leaving Gambians at the mercy of a system known for isolating its citizens from creating or taking part in public debate on issues affecting their lives.

We concur with Amnesty International that the law is “an outrageous attack on freedom of expression.” Any government that strangulates freedom of expression has flouted the key pillar of democracy, and blocks any possibility of checks and balances. Such a government disrespects and betrays the confidence of its people.

But this is not surprising in a country where authorities fear journalists more than death, as evidenced by the government’s launching of systematic crack down on anyone who openly criticizes the government or its policies. All their efforts – including shutting down newspapers, radio stations, imprisonment of activists and expelling of foreign journalists – have resulted to the proliferation of online media, creating citizen journalists on a daily basis. It is not therefore surprising that the Gambia government decides to go after the online media, which have become the only source of credible and uncensored information.

The enactment of the new law means the online content is getting into the dictatorial regime’s skin. What the Jammeh regime needs to understand is that press freedom is unstoppable, for human beings will do all it takes to feed their minds with information, no matter what. In fact, dictatorial regimes have all failed in this fight, and we see no reason why a government that pays its civil service a pittance can succeed. This law has left us with no choice other than becoming sophisticate in our news gathering. Alluta continua!


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