Gambia: Life sentence for distributing anti-government t-shirts violates free speech
|Publication Date||20 January 2012|
|Cite as||Article 19, Gambia: Life sentence for distributing anti-government t-shirts violates free speech, 20 January 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4f26830f2.html [accessed 22 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
ARTICLE 19 is appalled by the conviction and prison sentence handed to Amadou Scattred Janneh, a former Minister of Information and Communication, and six others, for distributing t-shirts calling for democratic change in the Gambia. ARTICLE 19 urges the Gambian courts to quash the conviction of Janneh and his co-accused and release them immediately.
"Printing t-shirts with political slogans is a basic form of expression. It is absurd to make this a criminal offence, let alone punish it with a prison sentence. It is also a clear violation of international standards on the right to freedom of expression that The Gambia is bound to uphold," said Dr Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.
"ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned by the state of freedom of expression in The Gambia. This decision testifies to the worsening climate of censorship in the country and the urgent need to repeal its harsh media laws," continued Callamard.
After a trial spanning several months, the Special Criminal Court of Banjul convicted and sentenced Amadou Scattred Janneh to life imprisonment for treason. Janneh was arrested and charged with two counts of treason and two counts of sedition on 7 June 2011 for printing and distributing t-shirts bearing the slogan "Coalition for Change in The Gambia, End Dictatorship Now".
Meanwhile, Nigerian national Michael C. Ucheh Thomas, and Gambian nationals Modou Keita and Ebrima Jallow, have been convicted on two counts of seditious acts and sentenced to three years imprisonment with hard labour. Three other members of The Coalition for Change in The Gambia who are currently out of the country, Ndey Tapha Sosseh (journalist and former president of The Gambia Press Union), Mathew K. Jallow and Famara Demba, could face prosecution if they return.
Under the Gambian Criminal Code, it is a criminal offence to publish and distribute material that incites hatred, contempt or disaffection against the president or the government.
ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned by the relentless use of seditious offences in The Gambia to silence political dissidents and government critics in clear breach of domestic and international standards of freedom of expression.
Article 25 of the Gambian Constitution guarantees freedom of speech. The Gambia is also a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, which permit restrictions on the right to freedom of expression only in very narrowly defined circumstances.
In the Gambia, seditious offences are incredibly overbroad and fail to meet those standards. They are also largely outdated and out of step with the growing number of African countries who have removed these offences from their statute book.
Two days after the sentence was passed, President Yahya Jammeh vowed to crackdown further on political opponents and journalists in a speech that was broadcast on national television.
ARTICLE 19 urges the Gambian authorities to release Janneh and his co-accused immediately. ARTICLE 19 further calls on The Gambia government to repeal the obsolete and repressive speech offences that unduly limit and suppress the fundamental right to free expression in The Gambia.
NOTES TO EDITORS:
For more information contact : Fatou Jagne Senghore, Regional Representative , ARTICLE 19 West Africa firstname.lastname@example.org or Bruno Menzan, ARTICLE 19 West Africa Programme Assistant for Gambia, at email@example.com.