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The Gambia Day of Action for digital rights, free speech

MFWA

July 22, 2013, marks 19 years of President Yahya Jammeh's rule of West Africa's smallest country, The Gambia, after the 48-year old leader seized power in 1994 through a military coup.

The 19-year rule of President Jammeh has been characterised by a brutal repression of citizens' rights to free expression. Freedom of speech and media rights have remained stifled, mainly through the application of inimical laws and the meting out of stiffer punishments after politically motivated trials.

During the period, dozens of human rights advocates and journalists have been exiled, others have been killed and several others have disappeared. In The Gambia today, critical media reportage is literally outlawed, while other rights violations continue to be perpetrated by the government with gross impunity. For example, the Jammeh regime has refused to comply with two human rights judgements delivered against it by the regional community Court of Justice (the ECOWAS Court) since 2010.

While traditional media remains repressed, Gambian citizens have, over the years, relied on the Internet as an alternative channel to express themselves. Gambians based at home and abroad have, over the years, used the Internet to advocate for the respect and protection of human rights (especially freedom of expression) in the country. Online freedom has now too been severely restricted through a new draconian Internet law passed on July 3, 2013.

The new Internet law – the Information and Communication Act 2013 – allows for a 15-year jail term and/or a fine of US $90,000 for the offence of "publication of false news" about the government, on the Internet. Many have expressed concern about the obvious dire implications of the law on online freedom and freedom of expression in The Gambia.

On this day, July 22, marked by human rights organisations and civil society groups globally as the "Gambia Day of Action," the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) entreats all Internet-users across the world to join the campaign to protest against the new Internet law and the worsening conditions of freedom of expression in The Gambia.

We specifically request Internet users, rights activists and individuals to act by sending a protest message via SMS to the Gambian government through its Minister of Information, Nana Grey Johnson, to his cell phone number: 002209916181.

We also encourage you to republish this statement in your newspapers and websites. Join the MFWA's 1-hour Twitter forum on The Gambia via "@MFWAALERTS" on Monday, July 22, 2013 at 14:00 GMT.

For a visual impression of Human rights situation in The Gambia click here.
To see a video on the "Dangerous Business of Journalism in The Gambia" click here.

For more information please contact:
Kwame Karikari (Prof)
Executive Director
MFWA
Accra
Tel: 233-0302-24 24 70
Fax: 233-0302-22 10 84

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