By Yankuba Jallow

The Minister of Information Ebrima Sillah in his speech during World Press Freedom Day commemoration on Friday 3rd May, has expressed his desire for The Gambia to climb to higher rank in press freedom index.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Gambia has made significant progress in press freedom rankings, by climbing thirty places from last year’s global ranking. The Gambia was ranked 122nd in the world in 2017 and 34th in Africa, while in 2018, Gambia has been ranked 92nd globally and 9th, in Africa. The Minister does not consider this good enough.

He wished The Gambia to be among the top three in Africa. He stressed that the country should not go for anything less, admitting that more needs to be done.

Every year, 3rd May is set aside by the United Nations, to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press as a reminder for Governments of their duty in respecting and upholding the right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Media personnel across the World, commemorated the Day including the Gambia Press Union (GPU). The theme for this year’s commemoration was: “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation.”

Meanwhile, Sillah apologized to journalists for the recent comment he made at State House when he said people should listen ‘only’ to the state media on issues relating to state affairs, for accurate information. His statement was seen by many journalists and activists, to be against the private media.

According to him, his statement was misunderstood. He was however quick to add that he could have said it better. He disclosed that Government is trying to recruit communication officers in all Ministries and Departments come next financial year.

“There is this Law that states that public servants cannot talk to the media unless they get approval from the Secretary General and we are trying to get our way around this,” he said.

Sheriff Bojang Jr, the President of the GPU said the day creates the opportunity to celebrate journalists who put their lives on the line for freedom of expression and democracy. He cited Deyha Hydara, Lamin Fatty, Chief Ebrima Manneh, among others, as examples. Bojang said the stories of death, torture and missing journalists would not be buried but celebrated by the media fraternity. “We will continue to celebrate them,” he said. According to him, journalists and journalism never leave the country unlike politicians, parties, groups, etc., who come and go.

Bojang pointed out that the draconian media Laws that are still in the country’s law books, must be quashed to ensure journalists and journalism in this country thrive freely. He acknowledged the good atmosphere that the current Government has availed the media, but questions its longevity without the total scraping out of the prevailing bad Laws.

The Regional Director for Amnesty International in West and Central Africa regions Mrs. Evelyn Petrus-Barry, said Amnesty International has engaged the government of the Gambia to scrap these draconian and other Laws that criminalize free speech including unlawful assembly without permit and Section 9 of the Public Order Act. She called on Government to instruct security forces not to use excessive force to disrupt public gatherings that are held by demonstrators without permit. Mrs. Evelyn Petrus-Barry called on the Anti-Crime Unit of the Gambia Police Force and the Gambia Armed Forces (GAF), to stop the arbitrary arrests of citizens because the Law of the land indicates that no one should be detained for more than seventy-two hours. She further called on the Government to ensure that there is no torture.

“We call on the government of The Gambia to establish an independent commission to ensure the accountability of the police and to abolish the death penalty in the Laws of The Gambia, as two people have already been sentenced to death in 2018,” Madam Barry said.

She concluded by calling on Government to ratify all treaties of the African Union.

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