In the Report of the activities undertaken by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa during the intersession period from November 2011 to April 2012, it has been highlighted that the Government of The Gambia was forwarded an urgent letter of Appeal during the period under review.
Advocate Pansy Tlakula, the African Commission for Human and People's Rights' (ACHPR) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, in her urgent letter of Appeal, urges the Gambian authorities to repeal or review the laws in the Criminal Code to conform with the African Charter, the Declaration, the Constitution of the Gambia and other regional and international instruments that relate to freedom of expression and association.
This letter of Appeal is in line with the mandate of the Special Rapporteur to make public interventions where violations of the right to freedom of expression and access to information have been brought to her attention and which includes the issuing of public statements, press releases, and sending appeals to Member States asking for clarifications and actions on such issues.
The letter also made reference to the case of the former Gambian Minister of Information and Communication, Dr. Amadou Scathed Janneh, who was convicted and jailed with three other individuals, namely: Modou Keita, Ebrima Jallow, and Micheal C. Ucheh Thomas, on freedom of expression related charges.
According to the Report, the letter of Appeal was transmitted to President Yahya Jammeh on 22 March 2012 and in which the Special Rapporteur has underlined Principles I (1) and II of the Declaration on the principles of Freedom of Expression (the Declaration), which states that Freedom of Expression and Information, "Is a fundamental and inalienable human right and an indispensable component of democracy" and "Any restrictions on freedom of expression shall be provided by law, serve a legitimate interest and be necessary in a democratic society".
The letter, according to the Report, further highlighted Principle XII of the Declaration which provides that: "No one shall be found liable for true statements, opinions or statements regarding public figures which it was reasonable to make in the circumstances" and that "Public figures shall be required to tolerate a greater degree of criticism" and "Sanctions shall never be so severe as to inhibit the right to freedom of expression, including by others."
The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa made an appeal for the President of The Gambia to use his powers to pardon Dr. Janneh who has been sentenced to life imprisonment, as well as the other three individuals who have been sentenced to three years imprisonment, and release them from jail.
It was reported that the Special Rapporteur made a request to meet with the Government of The Gambia, so as to engage with its officials, in a constructive dialogue on the situation of freedom of expression in the country.
"In the same vein, the report also acknowledged the full response from the Government of The Gambia to the urgent letter of Appeal, thus acceding to the request by the Special Rapporteur for an audience to engage in constructive dialogue on the situation of freedom of expression in the Gambia.
"The Government also acceded to the request by the Special Rapporteur for an audience with the Government, to engage in constructive dialogue on the situation of freedom of expression in the Gambia.
"We wish to express our gratitude to the Government of The Gambia for the response and invitation, and hope that other States Parties will emulate the Government of The Gambia by responding to the correspondences from the African Commission."
The Gambia is among two other African countries namely Liberia and Somalia who have been forwarded an urgent letter of Appeal on issues concerning restrictions on freedom of expression and information.