Gambian authorities are in the process of enacting new insult laws in the country barely a year after the Supreme Court partially declared sedition unconstitutional.
Sedition is a colonial law which criminalizes conduct or speech that incite people to rebel against the authority.
Gambian Criminal Code provides for various seditious offences. Section 52 of the Gambian Criminal Code criminalises the publication and distribution of seditious material as well as the mere uttering of seditious words.
This provision has been amended in 2004 and 2005. These amendments essentially provide for harsher fines and prison terms.
Under the Criminal Code Amendment Act 2005, the offence of seditious publication is punishable with a fine between 50,000 and 250,000 dalasis (approximately 1,000-5,000GBP) and/or a minimum term of one-year imprisonment.
Under Section 46 of the Gambian Criminal Code, a seditious publication is a publication with a seditious intention.
Section 51 of the Gambian Criminal Code defines seditious intention as an intention to bring into hatred or contempt or to ‘excite disaffection’ against the President, his government and the judiciary.
It also includes raising “discontent or disaffection among the inhabitants of the Gambia” and promoting “feelings of ill-will and hostility between different classes of the population of the Gambia.”
While the new law does not mention publication as a term, it states that “any person who insults, or does any act to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the person of the President, or the Government of The Gambia”. Any “act” could include publication.
Meanwhile, in May, 2018, the Supreme Court of the country ruled that sedition as it applies to Government and ministers is unconstitutional.
The apex court maintained that sedition as it applies to the President is necessary in a democracy. The Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou did not defend both sedition and criminal defamation. Tambadou said that the Government believes that two are unconstitutional.
However, the Government has now brought sedition under a new cover. On Tuesday December 2nd, Tambadou is expected to lay before the National Assembly a bill to amend the current Criminal Code.
The Government is proposing criminalising ‘insult’ against the president and public officers and their parents under Section 107.
“Any person who insults, or does any act to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the person of the President, or the Government of The Gambia as by law established, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not less than fifty thousand dalasi or a term of imprisonment of not less than one year or to both the fine and imprisonment,” stated the draft bill which is expected to be gazette next week.
“Any person who directs parental insults to the President, Vice President, Cabinet Ministers, Judicial officers, Members of the National Assembly or any public officer holding a public office or in the exercise of his or her official functions, shall be held liable on summary conviction to a fine of not less than ten thousand dalasi and not more than fifty thousand dalasi or a term of imprisonment of not less than one month and not more than six months or to both the fine and imprisonment.”
The draft bill angers several rights activists. Madi Jobarteh, a Gambian rights activist, said the laws are “not the kind of provision one would have in a democracy”.
“The Criminal Code is a very important law as it deals with how citizens act and relate with each other on a daily basis,” said Jobarteh.
“The Criminal Code is the law that determines that everything we do is either lawful or unlawful. Unlawful acts are called offences or crimes for which one is arrested, tried and jailed if you are found to commit them.”
Meanwhile, Tambadou is expected to table at least 9 bills including one title media service bill. It is not clear to even Gambia Press Union what the content of the bill is.
However, the bills are expected to publish at the gazette next week.