The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression to the Government of the Gambia on 10 June 2022. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Government time to reply. The Government did not reply within this timeframe. If a reply is received, it will be published on the UN Special Procedures’ database.
This is a shorter version of the original communication.
Topic: threats by public officials and unknown individuals against human rights defender Madi Jobarteh.
Mr. Madi Jobarteh is a human rights defender who has worked for over 20 years advocating for transparency and increased accountability in governance in the Gambia. Mr. Jobarteh has worked on a range of human rights issue in the country, including recent work on social inclusion and the rights of women and girls. Mr. Jobarteh previously spent one and a half years outside of The Gambia in 2016 –2017, after he came under risk for his human rights work during a previous
On 29 April 2022, Mr. Jobarteh received a letter from the lawyer of Minister of Lands, Regional Government and Religious Affairs Hon. Abba Sanyang threatening to sue Mr. Jobarteh for defamation if he did not apologise for and retract an article he wrote alleging the Minister allocated land to other Government officials and their families and friends. Mr. Jobarteh has reportedly responded that he stands by his claims and will refuse to retract the article or apologise.
On the eve of Eid al-Fitr, 2 May 2022, President of the Gambia, Mr. Adama Barrow verbally attacked Mr. Madi Jobarteh in a televised address before a meeting of Banjul Muslim Elders at the State house in the city of Banjul. He claimed that Mr. Jobarteh’s criticism of the Government was made with the intention to incite violence and that his civil society work was aimed at “setting the country on fire”. The President furthermore criticised media channels for giving him a platform to speak about his work.
Since the 2 May address, Mr. Jobarteh has reportedly been receiving multiple threats online from unknown individuals. Some threaten to kill him or expel him from the country or contain messages that would contain similar messages to the one espoused by the President, for example, that he is opposed to “peace and progress” in the Gambia. At the time of writing, Mr. Jobarteh has not
reported the incidents to the police.
In the communication we expressed our concern with respect to the remarks made by President Adama Barrow about human rights defender Madi Jobarteh. We are particularly concerned that the comments made by the President appear to have sparked more violent reactions from other members of society, and may put Mr. Jobarteh’s life in danger. Stigmatising statements from public officials can be seen to legitimise attacks against human rights defenders and other civil society members. The criticism of the media’s reporting on Mr. Jobarteh’s work would be a dangerous attack on freedom of expression in The Gambia by the leader of the country. We fear that such intimidation for the legitimate and peaceful defence of human rights may put Mr. Jobarteh’s physical integrity at risk may have a chilling effect on civil society and the media more broadly.
We are furthermore concerned by the legal action being threatened by Hon. Abba Sanyanh against Mr. Jobarteh for his work exposing alleged corruption in Government. We reminded the Government that criminal defamation laws, particularly those that accommodate public officials bringing defamation lawsuits against criticism of their activities in public office, are detrimental to freedom of expression and should be revoked or revised. Criminal law should only be used against speech only in very exceptional and most egregious circumstances of incitement to violence, hatred or discrimination.