People who spread ‘fake news’ will be arrested, Police Media Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana asserted in a statement on Tuesday (8). This echoed what the former police spokesman Jaliya Senaratne said in his statement on April 1, 2020 that critics of “minor misconduct” would be arrested.
There has also been talk of bringing in a law on ‘fake news’ in the recent past. Sri Lanka is seeking to restrict freedom of speech and expression calling them ‘fake news’ in a context where the world’s human rights states and judicial mechanisms order the repeal of laws on ‘fake news’, which reduce freedom of speech and expression.
The practice of imposing criminal sanctions on treason, defamation and counterfeit news coverage may unnecessarily restrict the implementation of freedom of expression, and the enforcement of these laws may continue to infringe on internationally guaranteed rights, the community court of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) stated on February 13, 2018, in a lawsuit filed against Gambia by the African Journalists’ Association and a group of Gambian journalists.
The court reviewed Gambia’s laws on treason, criminal defamation and false news coverage, and ordered that freedom of expression be protected in accordance with international law.
The first plaintiff in the case was the African Journalists’ Association. It is the most represented organization of African journalists and was founded in 2007.
The second, third, fourth and fifth plaintiffs were African nationals and were living in exile at the time of filing the case. The lawsuit alleges that they fled the Gambia due to physical and mental abuse. The second complainant, Fatou Camara, stated that she was arrested and detained by the Gambian security forces on September 15, 2013, following false allegations that she had written a letter against the Gambian president.
The case against Fotou Camara was filed under the S. 59 of the Criminal Code S. 173 A Fake News Provisions of the Information and Communication Act 2013. She was released on bail of 5 million Gambian Dalasi in connection with the case. She fled to the United States via Senegal, fearing her trial would be politically influential.
Fatou Jaw Manneh, the third complainant, was arrested and detained on March 28, 2007, after a series of letters and public statements criticizing the government and the Gambian president from September 2003 to October 2005. She was convicted on August 18, 2008 of treason and publishing fake news.
After that, Fatou Jaw Manneh was ordered to pay a fine of 250,000 Gambia Dalasi within two hours. She was sentenced to four years in prison for failing to pay the fine. She then left Gambia and settled in the United States, where she paid the fine with the help of the Gambia Journalists Association, family and other supporters.
The fourth plaintiff, Alhagie Jobe, stated in the case that he was arrested on February 7, 2013 for writing a letter from a stand against the killing of nine convicts. He further alleged that he was locked in a completely dark room for three days while in custody.
He had been beaten while unconscious and suffered burns. He was taken to a medical treatment center on the orders of a high-ranking official, and charged with publishing and possessing treasonous intentions under section 52 of the Criminal Code after leaving the hospital. He was also denied bail and remanded in custody for 17 months until the end of the trial.
He was later acquitted and released on appeal. He had fled to Senegal on fear of further persecution, the lawsuit said.
Fifth plaintiff Lamin Fatty later joined the case and is also a journalist who was illegally arrested and tortured. During the trial, journalists argued that Gambia had violated its right to speech and freedom of expression by arresting and convicting them of treason, insult and false news.
They also stated that they have the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 66 (2) of the amended Convention of the Economic Community of the West African States (ECOWAS) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Journalists also argued that their arrest and torture under Article 6 of the African Charter and Article 9 of the ICCPR was a deprivation of their liberty.
Journalists have called for the Gambia to rescind the laws it has been accused of, or to amend the law in some other way to meet its obligations under international law and conventions, including the ICCPR, and to demand compensation and specific relief for the torture of two detained journalists.
Journalists argued that Gambia’s criminal laws have affected their profession as journalists, and that the free distribution of information in the public interest is impractical, and that Gambia, as a member of the ECOWAS, has violated the provisions of the Criminal Code, which must comply with human rights and international obligations.
Journalists also argued that the wrongdoing in journalism was inevitable, but that criminal liability for these errors violated freedom of expression. The Court recognized the fundamental importance of the right to freedom of expression and declared that it was “not only the cornerstone of democracy but also an essential element of a developing civil society.”
Following the hearing, the court issued its order on five counts.
1) Defendant’s (Gambian) action in enforcing the provisions of the Law on Treason against the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th applicants (plaintiffs) in this case is a violation of the applicant’s rights under Articles 6, 9 and 12 of the African Convention on Civil and Political Rights. The court also ruled that Articles 9, 12 (4) and 19 (2) of the Convention and Article 66 (2) of the amended ECOWAS Agreement had been violated.
2)The court also ruled that the torture, inhumane and degrading treatment of the fourth and fifth applicants (plaintiffs) violated the rights of the Gambia under Article 5 of the African Convention on Human Rights and Article 7 of the ICCPR.
3)The Court also ordered the Gambia to immediately rescind and / or amend the aforementioned laws in accordance with the obligations under international law, especially the African Convention on Human Rights and Human Rights, the ICCPR and the ECOWAS Amended Agreement.
4)Gambia was ordered to pay the 4th and 5th applicants (plaintiffs) two million Gambian Dalasi each for human rights violations, including the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom from torture.
5) The court also ordered Gambia to pay one million Gambian Dalasi each for violating the rights of the 2nd and 3rd applicants.