Gambia: Stop attacks on human rights defenders and journalists

Activist Madi Jobarteh has angered the president by criticising him online

ARTICLE 19 is concerned about the recent crackdown on freedom of expression in The Gambia. The government of The Gambia must cease all attacks on human rights defenders, activists, and other members of civil society.

On 2 May 2022, in a televised statement, the President of the Republic of The Gambia accused activist Mr Madi Jobarteh of seeking to destabilise the country.  The statement was made during an address to religious leaders of Banjul ahead of the Muslim feast Eid-ul-Fitr held at the state house. Speaking in the Wolof local language, the president said: ‘Madi Jobarteh is amongst those people who want to burn this country down. Whenever he is given a platform, he always criticises the government and journalists are always giving him a platform. Whoever aids him is not helping this country.’

President Barrow further stated: Madi claims to be a member of civil society, but a civil society that is only hell bent on creating chaos in the country. My government must look into his case, because we cannot leave a person of this nature like that…’  

In a recent post on Facebook on 20 April, Jobarteh published an article entitled ‘Bring back our Lands’ regarding land issues in The Gambia, and called on the government to sack and remove the Minister of Local Government and Lands. He has published several other social media posts calling out the government for its mismanagement of state funds.

Following the remarks by the president, Jobarteh wrote on his Facebook page; ‘…from today, the safety or destruction of my life is in the hands of the president. I consider the president’s remarks as a death threat.’

The recent remarks by the president have a chilling effect on free speech throughout the country. They can potentially create an environment that legitimises attacks on human rights defenders, activists, journalists and other members of civil society organisations, thereby undermining freedom of expression in The Gambia.

We remind the President of the Gambia of the requirement for public figures to tolerate a greater degree of criticism than the rest of society. We further remind the Gambian state of its responsibility under international law to protect human rights defenders. The State must further refrain from any acts that violate the rights of human rights defenders and ensure they are protected against, ‘any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of [their work‘.

We call on the Gambian government to ensure wide protection of free speech in the country and to fast-track legal reforms that guarantee the right to free expression in line with international standards. We further urge the government to strengthen legislation, policies and institutional structures to ensure the protection of human rights defenders, activists, journalists and members of civil society organisations.