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Gambians could face 15 years in jail for spreading "false news" online

The Gambian National Assembly, the country's legislative body, has passed into law an amendment to the Information and Communication Act, imposing stiffer sanctions on persons found guilty of using the Internet to spread false news.

The amended act – passed on July 3, 2013 – specifies, among other things, that a person commits a criminal offence if he/she uses the Internet to spread false news against the government, incite dissatisfaction or instigate violence against the government, caricature, abuse or make derogatory statements against public officials.

Under the law, offenders will be jailed up to 15 years and/or fined an amount of 3 million Dalasis (about US $90,000).

According to MFWA sources in the Gambia, the government intends to use this law to silence critical Gambian Internet users, online activists, online newspapers and bloggers within or without the country.

Nana Grey Johnson, Minister of Information and Communication, said this new law provides deterrent punishment for such persons who are engaged in treacherous campaigns against The Gambia – both internally and outside.

A member of the National Assembly, Hon. Seedy Njie, also said “it is pertinent that [the] government comes up with these stingy measures to curb the activities of offenders online.”

The MFWA is alarmed at these recent amendments to the country's laws – all aimed at imposing stiffer punishments and stifling freedom of expression in the country.

The Gambian government has refused to act on calls from international and regional governments or groups – demanding for the repeal of, or expulsion of such laws that criminalize speech – and has instead embarked on imposing stiffer amendments.

For instance, on April 16, 2013, the National Assembly amended Section 114 of the Criminal Code, imposing a jail term of five years and/or a fine of 50,000 Dalasis (about US$1,650) on persons found guilty of giving false information.

Until said amendment, the offence of giving false information carried a jail term of not more than six months and/or a fine of Five Hundred Dalasis (about US$17).

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