Bloggers in The Gambia risk 15 years in Jail or fines of up to 3 million dalasis (approx. $90,000) if they criticize the government officials, share meme or share anything derogatory against online.
This comes after The Gambia amended an act passed a new law limiting online freedoms, especially to the youth. The Act criminalizes whoever spreads “false news” about the government or public officials, caricatures or makes derogatory statements against public officials and incites dissatisfaction or instigates violence against the government.”
Offenders “risk 15 years in jail and/or fine of three million Dalasis (about US$90,000). The law seeks to silence critical Gambian internet users, online activists, online newspapers and bloggers within or without the country.”According to Nana Grey Johnson, Minister of Information and Communication, “the new law provides deterrent punishment for such persons who are engaged in treacherous campaigns against The Gambia both internally and outside.” While Hon. Seedy Njie, a member of the National Assembly added: “it is pertinent that government comes up with these stingy measures to curb the activities of offenders online.”
The law passed July, was passive until a recent notice by Momodou Sabally, head of Civil Service and Minister of Presidential Affairs at a meeting held August 8 with religious leaders and cabinet members at the the State House, that the government is set to “massively crack down online freedoms”. Sabally warned Gambians – especially the youth not to participate in online campaigns against the government. He was quoted, “If you cannot say anything good about the country, then you should keep quiet.”
Sad, however is that the religious leaders at the state meeting are reportedly supporting the government’s move.
The Gambians are however not silent. Led by the Media Foundation of West Africa (MFWA) and other organizations, the recently-passed law is being condemned widely. Alieu Mboge, MFWA’s spokesperson has told the cabinet that “we would do everything within our power to stop the youth both in[side] and outside the country from any online criticism of the government.” Other organisations are also calling on the government and religious leaders to recognize the importance of the Internet to the youth and the entire economy and are calling for freedom of expression online and in public.
Apart from internet freedoms, Gambia’s traditional media such as radio stations and newspapers do not air programmes critical of the government. The government now wants to reign in on online activism.
Gambia’s announcement to take on activism online will derail internet penetration in the country and cause fear among users instead. Facebook’s plan to reach the next 5 billion will also be highly affected.