Human Rights

Gambia gov’t denies repressing free speech

By Yaya Dampha
The Gambian government, as part of its report to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), defended its highly condemned human rights records by blaming it all on ‘‘irresponsibility’’ on the part of the independent press.
The head of the Gambian delegation, Justice Minister Marie Saine Firdaus, denied that her government ever suppressed free speech, even though the highly condemnatory reaction the Gambia met with in Geneva wasn’t limited to its attitude towards the media. She told a clearly unconvincing gathering that her government respects free speech, accusing Gambian journalists of deliberately engaging in sensational reporting with the goal of seeking political asylum.  
The minister cited the Gambia’s 1997 Constitution which she said introduced a special chapter guaranteeing the freedom and ‘‘independence’’ of the press. That, she argued, explains her government’s unquestionable commitment to the free flow of information. She blamed the deteriorating situation surrounding the country’s chaotic media atmosphere squarely on independent Gambian media workers, whom she said engaged in false and defamatory reporting primarily because they are not trained in their trade.
Justice Minister Fredaus rubbished reports that the Gambian President Yahya Jammeh ever threatened human rights groups with death. She also blamed that on ‘irresponsible’’ reporting on the part of the independent media in the country. She went further to deny reports that media personnel or journalists were ever arrested in the aftermath of the March 2006 alleged coup, but was quick to add that only two journalists were arrested and that these two were subsequently released without being charged. Firdaus failed to mention the names of these two journalists.
In a desperate attempt to convince the UN panel of her government’s commitment to free speech, the Gambian Justice Minister said that during the cause of its 15 year rule, her government has ensured that Gambia witnessed the establishment of over fifteen media outlets.

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