Basidia M Drammeh
The backlash against reports that the Barrow Administration plans to table an amendment to the existing Criminal Code has been swift and scathingly unequivocal. Gambia’s social media activists have roundly and sharply deprecated, denounced and condemned in the strongest terms possible reports that the Justice Minister is in the process of tabling before parliament a bill that would criminalize insulting the President, his Cabinet ministers, MPs and civil servants.
The public outrage stems from a perception that such a bill if passed, may see the freedom of expression curtailed and the fledgling democracy slide into dictatorship. Former Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh had devised similar laws to stifle dissent and control the narrative so Gambians have expressed serious concerns over the bill in question arguing that it’s emblematic of Government’s tendency to autocracy and is reminiscent of the dark era under Jammeh.
The activists have further contended that the law is intended to silence the President’s arch critics. At the heart of the contention is what constitutes an insult. The timing of the bill is baffling to many. The Barrow Administration has been widely praised for tolerance and for guaranteeing freedom of expression. In fact, some would argue that it’s the single most tangible achievement of the Government, hence they wonder what Mr. Barrow would gain.
The cost of living has been on the rise, power and water shortages have become daily realities for many Gambians so the move stands to adversely impact Barrow’s already ebbing popularity. Some Gambians are openly questioning the competency and judgement of the President’s chief legal advisor, who is no other than the embattled Justice Minister Ba Tambedou.
The latter has recently been on record that his ministry is in an acute shortage of law professionals. So for him to come up with such a bill only defies logic and common sense. Does Mr. Tambedou have a sufficient number of legal practitioners to prosecute the would-be insulters? Personally, I am against insulting anybody, particularly the President who is the figurehead of the nation. Nonetheless, I am of the view that the business of instilling values should be left to social institutions such as homes, schools and places of worship. There are too many pressing issues that should pre-occupy the Government than instilling morality through the might of the law.