The Gambia House of Representatives has passed a bill banning “Internet Activism” and criminalizing what they called false information against the government of the Gambia and it’s officials. This bill according to our reports is Orchestrated by the new minister of information and technology Nana Grey Johnson himself an author and a seasoned journalist.
In introducing the bill in the house of representatives Minister Johnson said “In the recent past, some citizens have waged concerted efforts to pit the people and the security officials of The Gambia against their Government. They do this by inciting the people to engage in unpatriotic behavior, spreading false news and engaging in criminal defamation against Government officials. Such tendencies, if unchecked are a recipe for chaos and instability in any country. Therefore, this Bill seeks to provide for the deterrent punishment of such persons who are engaged in such treacherous campaigns against The Gambia both internally and outside The Gambia,”
Minister Johnson reportedly introduced this bill after the Jammeh regime continue to increasingly face growing online activism from Gambian Journalists; concerned citizens, political and human rights activists. Failing to contain Journalists and dissident activism outside the borders of the Gambia, the Jammeh government frustrated and badly bruised on the Internet is resorting to desperate measures to try to control information and or incite fear in Gambian political and human rights activists outside of the Gambia.
As a result of this frustration and fear of instability through increasing online and social media activism, the House of Representatives passed an Amendment of the Information Act 2013 thereby imposing a 15 year Jail term and or a fine of D3 Million on persons found guilty of publishing “false news” on the internet against the regime or public officials.
The particulars of the amendment called Information and Communication Act 2013
SECTION 173A Internet Related Offences
(1) A person commits an offence if he or she uses the internet to –
a. Spread false news against the Government or public officials;
b. Incite dissatisfaction or instigate violence against the Government or public officials or
c. Caricature, abuse or make derogatory statements against the person or character of officials
d. Impersonate any public official
e. Blackmail any person or
f. Threaten to commit a criminal offence against any person
(2) A person who commits an offence under sub-section (1) is liable on conviction to a fine of three million Dalasis or imprisonment for fifteen years or to both
(3) This section shall apply to all persons without regard to the place from which the offence was committed.
In supporting the bill the majority leader and member for Serekunda opined that the bill will ensure that those who spread information through the internet are held accountable for passing false information. He said “freedom of speech, freedom of the press and all freedoms – there is no absolute freedom. Freedom goes with responsibilities”. He hastens to add that all the bill will seek to do is to allow anybody to speak honestly and sincerely on any issues about government and or government officials. The bill Mr. Jatta continued will prevent “unscrupulous individuals” from using the internet to incite violence and defame the president and government officials.
The news of introducing and passing such a bill did not come as a surprise to many Gambian political observers, especially exiled Gambian journalists and online activists. Increasingly, the Jammeh regime has faced persistent pressure and scrutiny from dissident citizens through online media print and Internet Radios. The efforts by the regime to subdue the independent press in the Gambia led to a massive exile of Gambian Journalists which eventually created the birth of a vibrant online media in the Diaspora. The online media continuous to be in the forefront of activism in reporting information about the government of the Gambia. This has led to an overwhelming discredit of the Jammeh regime to many of its international partners on governing policies and violations of human rights against Gambian citizens.
As a result, independent Gambian citizens living within the Gambia some close to corridors of power frustrated by what they perceived as a strangle on their freedoms and political rights, have anonymously joined the online media by feeding them information on the daily activities of the government. Under normal Democratic circumstances, open society and freedom of the press information should be openly made available to the press for transmission to the general public. As a result of the Jammeh regime’s tied control on information and the passage of draconian media laws, citizens have resorted to sharing information with the online media. Unfortunately for President Jammeh and his government he cannot control free flow of information on the Internet no matter how much punishment he levies against alleged offenders. The internet therefore has become the worst nightmare of the regime largely due to its lack of accountability and respect for freedom of information as guaranteed in the Gambian constitution.
To make matters worse for the regime the growing presence and access of Gambians to online social media has made it far easier for ordinary Gambians especially the youths to receive more information about government activities. Thus the internet will continue to become a nightmare for President Jammeh and his government unless they consider repealing draconian media laws, partner with and allow the independent press to carry out its duties without fear of intimidation and or false charges on passing false information.
It would be interesting to see how the Jammeh regime intends to enforce such a law outside the borders of the Gambia. In fact, many citizens strongly believe that what the government considers false information, to the ordinary Gambian and Journalists it is need to know information and holding checks and balances on the regime and public officials. It is however baffling that such a drastic measure is being Orchestrated by none other than the minister of information who is supposed to be fighting for the rights of citizens to access information from government and public officials.