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WAJA Chief Hails ECOWAS Move On Free Speech

The West African journalists Association (WAJA) through its President Peter Quaqua has welcomed as groundbreaking, the guilty verdict brought down by the ECOWAS Court against the Gambian Government in a case involving four journalists.

The Court ruled on February 14, 2018 that the Government of President Yahya Jammeh violated the rights of the journalists to freedom of expression, liberty and movement. They had been arrested, detained and tortured in line with their work.

The four journalists, who were being held on criminal libel charges, subsequently fled into exile for fear of their lives.

In its judgment, the sub-regional Court of Justice declared that the criminal laws on libel, sedition and false news disproportionately interfered with the rights of the journalists. It therefore directed the new government of President Adama Barrow to “immediately repeal or amend” these laws in line with its obligations under international law.

The ECOWAS Court acknowledged “the crucial role that the media play in society, and unequivocally condemned the enforcement of criminal laws against journalists for carrying out this role.”

While celebrating the verdict, WAJA said this singular action by the Court is not only victory for journalism, but also a strong statement for democracy and freedom across West Africa.

In a press release at weekend, WAJA said the judgment should serve as a wake-up call to all governments in the sub-region that still maintain criminal libel laws to abolish them quickly before they are embarrassed.

“We will take full advantage of this precedent, to bring to book any government, keen on treating journalism as a crime, through the enforcement of such repressive laws,” WAJA President, Mr. Quaqua cautioned.

The case of the four exiled Gambian journalists was filed by the Federation of African Journalists in December 2015 in collaboration with the Media Legal Defense Initiative based in the UK.

Criminalizing speech is a violation of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Convention on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, the Declaration of Table Mountain and many other regional and international instruments.

Member countries to these conventions and protocols are obligated to conform.
Member countries to these conventions and protocols are obligated to conform.

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