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Gambia: Editor Punished by Court

(July 3, 2012) On June 28, 2012, newspaper editor Abdulhamid Adiamoh, a Nigerian citizen, was sentenced by a court in Gambia for contempt of court. His punishment is a fine equivalent to about US$3,165 or six months of imprisonment with hard labor. The charges stem from the defendant's alleged criticism in his newspaper, Today, of a lawyer in a case involving an official of the University of The Gambia. The article in question was entitled Counsel Sidesteps Issues in Cross-Examination of Vice Chancellor of the University of the Gambia. (Gambia Court Hands Editor Stiff Fine or Six Months in Jail, UNIVISION NOTICIAS.COM (June 28, 2012).)

Adiamoh had written a letter expressing his “unreserved apology” for the article (Today Newspaper Boss Apologizes to Lawyer Conteh, DAILY OBSERVER (June 26, 2012)), which apparently did not have an impact on his own situation. The Magistrate in the case, Taiwo Alagbe, commented on the original article, stating that “[c]ourt reporting is sacrosanct and should not be taken as a matter of joke.” (Id.)

Gambia's press laws, including the Information and Communications Act 2009 (Gambia: Information and Communications Act 2009, World Intellectual Property Organization website (last visited July 2, 2012)), have come under criticism for years from human rights groups for, among other problems, a lack of independence of licensing authorities. (Article 19, Gambia: Analysis of Selected Media Laws – Overview, ALLAFRICA (May 2, 2012), [Article 19 is an international freedom of expression advocacy group].)

In a 2010 online article about repression in the country, Amnesty International called for, among other reforms, an end to “the harassment of journalists and media organizations.” (Stop the Rule of Fear in Gambia, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL (July 20, 2010).) The press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders states of Gambia, “[p]ress freedom is stifled year after year by an intolerant and unpredictable government. The work of the privately owned media is hobbled by an extremely threatening climate, bolstered by laws of defamation and against 'publishing false news' that are among the most draconian in West Africa.” (World Report: Gambia, REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS (Apr. 2009); see also Reporters Without Borders, 2012 Predators of Press Freedom: Gambia- Yahya Jammeh, President, REFWORLD (May 4, 2012).)

In a general response to reports of harsh treatment of journalists, President Yahya Jammeh, speaking in November 2011, stated, “[s]omebody said that this country is a hell for journalists, well there are freedoms and there are responsibilities. Being a journalist does not mean license to kill. Character assassination will not be accepted.” (Gambia Court Hands Editor Stiff Fine or Six Months in Jail, supra.)