The Gambia Press Union (GPU) welcomes the scrapping of repressive media and freedom of expression rights laws in Sierra Leone, and calls on The Gambia to follow suit.
On Wednesday 11 September, the Parliament of Sierra Leone voted to repeal criminal libel and sedition provisions under Part Five of the country’s Public Order Act.
The move came barely nine months after President Julius Maada Bio, who assumed office in March 2017, announced plans to fulfill his election campaign promise to repeal anti-media laws and create a fund for media subvention.
The repeal of sedition and criminal libel in Sierra Leone leaves The Gambia as the only English-speaking West African country that maintains sedition. Ghana had since 2001 repealed criminal libel and sedition followed by Liberia in 2019.
In Nigeria, the Court of Appeal had since 1983 declared sedition as unconstitutional. “We are no longer the illiterates or the mob society our colonial masters had in mind when the law was promulgated,” the court says in its famous ruling.
Upon assuming office in 2017, President Adama Barrow regularly pledges to repeal a number of anti-media and free speech laws promulgated and enforced by his predecessor. Nearly three years on, not a piece of legislation is repealed despite enormous efforts by the GPU and partners.
In fact, sedition and criminal libel were subject of litigation at the Supreme Court of The Gambia in the wake of a suit filed by the GPU challenging the constitutionality of a number of anti-speech laws, including sedition, criminal libel, false news and false publication on the internet.
Although criminal libel was declared as unconstitutional, the country’s highest court ruled that all the provisions on sedition in the penal code are constitutional except the clause that criminalises criticisms of the government. This is despite the fact that a decision was made barely few weeks earlier by the Ecowas Court of Justice, which condemned those same laws as undemocratic and called on the government to repeal them.
The GPU President Sheriff Bojang Jr. described Sierra Leone’s move to repeal criminal libel and sedition as “a breath of fresh air at a time when the GPU and partners are pushing for the Government of The Gambia to repeal similar repressive media laws from our law books.”
“If Sierra Leone’s lawmakers could break away from the past and repeal these laws, there’s no reason why Gambia should not follow suit. We take this opportunity to once again remind our government that it has a duty to do the right thing by catching up with the rest of the world.”