I hereby ask Chief Servant Adama Barrow to ask his Attorney General Aboubacarr Tambadou to immediately withdraw the case against Fatou Badgie charged for insulting the president. Such a move would not only demonstrate exemplary leadership and commitment to the change we yearned for, but it will also go further to weakening adversaries and agents provocateur who wish to subvert the peace and stability of the Gambia. If Barrow goes ahead to withdraw this case, it will also serve to heal the nation, promote reconciliation and console the losers, which are his responsibilities as he is the president of all Gambians. It is high time we are magnanimous.
Having said that, let me state it very categorically that to insult a public officer in essence is not an offence within the broader context of democracy. Citizens have a right to express unpleasant words against their government and public officers to show their disagreement. That is basic. This is not to say we must encourage profanities in our society, but we cannot also punish it by arresting citizens for using profane words. While it is true that every society has culture, which has its norms and values, yet in matters of public affairs we cannot use culture and religion to determine how citizens engage with public institutions, public officers and public policy.
Insult laws however do exist in many countries including the Gambia characterized as sedition. In our Criminal Code under Section 51, sedition or seditious intention is, among others things when a person utters words that bring hatred, contempt or disaffection against the person of the president. Furthermore in 2013 an amendment to the Information and Communication Act created the offence of ‘false news’ when a person is said to spread false information against the government or public officers thus liable for 15 years jail term or a fine of 3 million dalasi!
We must bear in mind that in the first place sedition laws are colonial weapons intended to limit the ability of our people to resist colonialism and seek freedom. After gaining independence several African countries still maintain this obnoxious law and only replaced the Queen with President to reflect the new nation. In his 22 bloody years, Yaya Jammeh and APRC have effectively used this colonial law to limit the ability of the Gambians to hold them to account. We can all recall the many court cases against innocent citizens for merely saying paste the picture of the president on the sky. One can see that even in the Information and Communication Act, the attempt is merely to limit the space and freedoms just to entrench the APRC Tyranny.
In light of the foregoing, when we decided on December 1, we had decided not just for a regime change but also more importantly for a system change. Hence never again should we have sedition in our laws. The crime of ‘false news’ in the Information and Communication Act as well as the ‘false news publication’ and ‘giving false information to a public officer’, which are all in our Criminal Code, must be expunged. These are anti-democratic laws intended to terrorize citizens when they exercise their constitutional rights.
In their manifesto, one of the topmost priorities of the Coalition is to review our constitution and laws to ensure that such bad provisions are removed so that we have human rights-friendly and democratic laws. For that matter, it is necessary that Barrow start the implementation of that objective in practice by asking his Attorney General Aboubacarr Tambadou to withdraw this case against Fatou Badgie. The lady has a right to express her opinion and it may not be pleasant. If she had said that Barrow was a good and handsome man, I am sure no one would arrest her. Why then should she say the opposite and she got arrested?
We expect that the Minister of Justice, Aboubacarr Tambadou would provide the most honest advice to the president to understand what is sensible and useful legally and what is not. If Tambadou fails to do his job, I wish to urge Magistrate Bah overseeing this case to throw it out. There is no merit in this case other than to damage Section 25 of our constitution on the right to free expression, which is an entrenched clause.
We can all recall a similar incident in Ghana during the tenure of the late Pres. John Atta Mills when an opposition sympathizer insulted him in 2010. After the police arrested the man, Pres. Mills asked the charges be dropped for the man to go free. In the US, we also recall how a congressman Joe Wilson called Pres.
Obama a liar as he delivered his state of the union address in 2009. Yet Obama never pursued the matter and the man was never arrested. But in both cases, friends and colleagues of both insulters rebuked them for their profanity. But the law did not do anything and those societies are only getting better. Hence a friend or family member of Fatou Badgie could reprimand her, but it is utterly undemocratic and a threat to national security if Fatou Badgie continues to be prosecuted and sent to jail. Let us protect our democracy!
Gambians, let us bear in mind that for 50 years, since independence we could not build a modern democratic state. This is now our opportunity to do so in order to fundamentally transform our lives for the better. In this task, not everything will be, as we like. But let us remember that we are not governing our society based on the Bible or the Quran or based on our traditional beliefs.
We are building a new Gambia based on our constitution and laws. Thus we must stop seeing public officers and the government in terms of our culture and religion. Hence the way we relate with our kabilo head or imam or priest is not the same way we should respond to our president, mayor or minister. They hold different positions. Let us understand those differences so that we do not make the president a kabilo head or an imam or priest. That would be a national disaster as we have witnessed since independence.
Free Fatou Badgie Now.
God Bless the Gambia.