Court Strikes Down Gambia’s ‘Draconian’ Media Laws

In a landmark case concerning freedom of expression rights in West Africa, where Munger, Tolles & Olson represented the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression as an amicus curiae, the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ruled on Feb. 14, 2018 that Gambia had violated the rights of four Gambian journalists who had been arrested, tortured and/or detained by Gambian authorities because of their journalistic activities. 

The ECOWAS Court permitted Munger, Tolles & Olson’s client, the United Nations Special Rapporteur, to provide expert interpretation of international law governing the right to freedom of expression; the Special Rapporteur submitted an affidavit arguing that Gambia’s media laws concerning criminal libel, defamation, false news and sedition ran afoul of international legal standards governing the rights to freedom of expression and the press. The ECOWAS Court agreed, and found that Gambian authorities had violated the journalists’ rights through the enforcement of Gambia’s media laws criminalizing libel, false news, defamation and sedition, and directed the Gambian government to immediately repeal or amend the offending media laws to bring them in line with Gambia’s obligations under international law.  

The pro bono attorney team representing the United Nations Special Rapporteur included Adam P. Barry, Jacob S. Kreilkamp, Adam J. Gottesfeld and Lauren C. Barnett.