For now on, any journalist in Gambia who uses the Internet in any capacity to criticise goverment officials will be jailed for 15 years.
This is according to a new amendment of the 2009 Information and Communication Act made early this month by the Gambian Parliament.
President Yahya Jammeh, who continues to rule this impoverished West African nation with an iron-fist, hates independent media, resulting to international media watchdogs to brand him a dangerous media predator.
Apart from the 15 years in jail, journalists found guilty of such ‘crime’ will also pay a fine of 3 million Dalasis (about US$100 000).
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) last week condemned the amendment.
The ‘crime’ includes using the Internet to spread false news or make derogatory statements, incite dissatisfaction, or instigate violence against the government or public officials, CPJ explained, quoting local media reports.
“Gambian authorities are trying to protect themselves by denying their citizens the right to use modern communications fully,” said Peter Nkanga, CPJ’s West Africa consultant.
“This amendment should be repealed immediately,” Nkanga added.
Information Minister Nana Grey Johnson said the amendment had been passed to prevent Gambians from engaging in “unpatriotic behavior” against the government and public officials.
It is believed that the amendment goes against the country’s Constitution.
The amendment also increased the penalty for providing false information to a public servant from six months and a fine of 500 Dalasi (about US$15) to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 Dalasi (about US$1,515), Amnesty International reported.
On April 18, authorities banned the use of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services like Skype by companies and individuals at Internet cafés, citing “national interest,” the state-owned Daily Observer reported.
Issued by CPJ, addtional reports and final editing by Issa Sikiti da Silva