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Gambia's new president urged to release political prisoners, protect free speech

People cheer as President Adama Barrow, centre, arrives in the Westfield neighborhood of Serrekunda, Gambia, 26 January 2017
People cheer as President Adama Barrow, centre, arrives in the Westfield neighborhood of Serrekunda, Gambia, 26 January 2017

AP Photo/Sylvain Cherkaoui

This statement was originally published on mfwa.org on 3 February 2017.

The Board of Directors of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), has praised the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) for its commendable efforts in ensuring the peaceful transfer of power from ex-President Yahya Jammeh to President Adama Barrow.

In a 10-point resolution issued at the end of a two-day meeting of the Board in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, the Board indicated that ECOWAS' action on the Gambian situation was one that will help strengthen and consolidate democratic governance across West Africa.

It congratulated the new Gambian president and urged him to undertake urgent reforms that will help ensure good governance, and respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Gambian people.

“As a commitment to the human rights reform agenda, the Board further calls on President Barrow to take urgent steps to unconditionally release all political prisoners and detainees under the Yahya Jammeh regime. A similar gesture should be extended to journalists who were arbitrarily detained or imprisoned under the regime,” the resolution stated.

Below is the full 10-point resolution issued by the Board

Board Resolution

By the Board of Directors of Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) at its meeting held in Dakar, Senegal, on January 25 & 26, 2017.

On January 25 and 26, 2017, the Board of Directors of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) Chaired by Mr. Edetaen Ojo, met in Dakar, Senegal, to discuss and approve the organisation's work plan and budget for 2017.

On the second day of the meeting, the Board held discussions with Gambian media experts, editors and the leadership of The Gambia Press Union (GPU) on the recent political challenges in The Gambia. The meeting discussed the prevailing context of press freedom and freedom of expression in The Gambia as well as the challenges and prospects for improving the media and freedom of expression landscape in the post-Jammeh era.

At the end of the two-day meeting, the Board unanimously adopted and issued this 10-point resolution:

1. The Board highly commends the ECOWAS for its resilient efforts that ensured the resolution of the Gambian political crisis and the peaceful transfer of power to H.E. President Adama Barrow who won the December 1, 2016 presidential elections. This, the Board notes, is a commendable effort on the part of ECOWAS that will ensure democratic development and consolidation not only in the Gambia but the West Africa region as a whole.

2. It congratulates President Barrow on his victory and ascension to the high office. It also calls on the president to urgently undertake the necessary reforms to ensure good governance, and respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Gambian people.

3. The Board further commends the people of The Gambia for their resort to peace and dialogue during the transitional process and for remaining resolute in their quest for democratic consolidation and respect for human rights.

4. Mindful for the very repressive press situation and freedom of expression conditions in The Gambia under the 22-year rule of President Yahya Jammeh, the Board calls on President Barrow to undertake urgent reforms that will promote, protect and defend the rights of the Gambian people to freely express themselves and to guarantee press freedom in the country. Such reforms will include the repeal of laws that criminalise speech offences and the passage of a Right to Information (RTI) legislation.

5. As a commitment to the human rights reform agenda, the Board further calls on President Barrow to take urgent steps to unconditionally release all political prisoners and detainees under the Yahya Jammeh regime. A similar gesture should be extended to journalists who were arbitrarily detained or imprisoned under the Jammeh regime.

6. In view of the crucial role of the media in the democratic transition and consolidation processes, the Board urges the new administration to support media sector reform measures such as building the capacity of journalists, improving journalism training institutions, strengthening and reforming the Gambian Television and Radio Service (GRTS), and other initiations that will ensure a vibrant, pluralistic and professional media landscape that will support participatory and accountable governance.

7. On the regional front, the Board reiterates its deep concern about the slow pace of digital migration among countries in West Africa, including the low level of public awareness of the digital migration process and its potentially massive implications for access to information and the right to freedom of expression.

8. Mindful of the fact that digital migration will require policy, legal and regulatory reforms, the Board calls on governments to adopt a multi-stakeholder and consultative approach in all policy, legal and regulatory reform processes associated with digital migration so that all critical stakeholders can be effectively engaged.

9. The Board welcomes the generally noticeable decline in the most egregious forms of attacks on journalists and the media in the region. The Board, therefore, commends the management and staff of the MFWA and its national partners in the region for their significant contributions towards achieving the current generally improved conditions of freedom of expression in West Africa. It urges the secretariat to continue to work closely with it partners to further improve the situation and strengthen the media's capacity to support transparent and accountable governance in the region.

10. On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the MFWA, which is this year - 2017, the Board expresses gratitude to the organisation's past and present funders and partners for their commitment and support for the organisation and its work over the years. To formally mark the occasion, the Board announces a two-day anniversary celebration in the form of a regional conference and awards to be held on October 27 and 28, 2017 in Accra.

Adopted in Dakar, Senegal, this Thursday, the 26th day of January, 2017

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