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A man fixes Gambia's flag on Feburary 16, 2017, during preparations for the swearing-in ceremony for Gambia's new president, Adama Barrow. Gambia's Supreme Court decided on May 9, 2018, to declare criminal defamation unconstitutional, but upheld segments of the country’s criminal code on sedition and false news, according to reports. (Reuters/Thierry Gouegnon)

Gambia declares criminal defamation unconstitutional, keeps some laws on sedition, false news

May 10, 2018 4:05 PM ET

Nairobi, May 10, 2018--The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the Gambian Supreme Court's decision yesterday to declare criminal defamation unconstitutional, but is dismayed that segments of the country's criminal code on sedition and false news were upheld.

According to the news website Front Page International and the secretary general of the Gambia Press Union, Saikou Jammeh, the court upheld provisions that punish statements likely to promote hatred among "different classes" and sedition relating to the country's president and judicial processes and decisions. While a provision that criminalizes the spreading of false news online was found unconstitutional, the court maintained parts of the criminal code that punish similar offenses with up to two years in prison, according to Jammeh.

"This decision is one step forward, two steps backwards for Gambia, and sends a message that journalists are still not free to work without the threat of criminal prosecution," said CPJ Africa program coordinator Angela Quintal from New York. "We urge the government of President Adama Barrow, who pledged to champion media freedom, to uphold his word by urgently enacting legislative reform."

The Supreme Court's decision contradicts a February 2018 ruling by the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) that directed Gambia to immediately repeal laws on libel, sedition, and false news, according to CPJ research.

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