Monrovia – The West African Journalists Association (WAJA) has declared the Gambia as the most hostile environment for journalists in the sub-region, as it observes World Press Freedom Day on May 3rd 2016.
WAJA says it is worried about the persistent violation of the rights of journalists in the Gambia with impunity and calls for global efforts to stop it.
In a release issued to mark day, the sub-regional media rights group expressed disappointment over the undue silence of regional and world leaders over the unrelenting harassment, imprisonment and disappearance of journalists and human rights activists in the Gambia.
WAJA President Peter Quaqua pointed out that: “in the 22-year rule of the Gambia, President Yahya Jammeh has not only presided over the killing and exiled of journalists, but continues to disrespect regional leaders as demonstrated in his failure to accept decisions emanating from the ECOWAS Court. It is time the world isolated this man,” he added.
WAJA believes if the Gambian dictator is prevented from attending gatherings of heads of state, it would teach him some soft lesson on how to treat his people humanely.
While condemning President Jammeh and his government, WAJA has similarly frowned on other countries in the region that intermittently send journalists and other people to jail on so-called criminal defamation laws.
Reference is made to the governments in Liberia and Sierra Leone, who, in spite of the huge international investments in peace and democratic rebirth, are inclined to throw journalists in jail on criminal defamation charges, with an accompany prohibitive bail bonds.
“Unfortunately Liberia and Sierra Leone boast of freedom of information laws, but would criminally punish people for using those information. It should be said Criminal libel and FOI cannot exist in harmony.” said the WAJA President.
AU Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information strongly opposes criminal defamation as endorsed in the AU Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa and other international human rights protocols.
WAJA applauds on-going efforts in Benin Republic to repeal Criminal Defamation and urges others that still have those laws on their books to follow.
Meanwhile, WAJA acknowledges the progress made by other countries in the region in approving FOI laws including, Côte D’Ivoire, Nigeria, Niger as well as Guinea and urges those governments to go beyond the passage and insist on implementation of the law, to which WAJA encourages journalists to support.