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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 13:00 GMT 14:00 UK
Gambia mulls 'draconian' press bill
Government supporters
President Jammeh won presidential elections last year
Members of the Gambian parliament are debating a controversial media law which journalists say will restrict press freedom.

Under the bill, a new National Media Commission would rule on complaints against journalists. It will be able to summon journalists to reply to accusations and order them to reveal their sources.

President Yahya  Jammeh of the Gambia
President Jammeh openly favours one-party rule
The commission will draw up a code of conduct for the media, as well as accredit journalists and press organizations.

The Gambia Press Union - the umbrella body for practising journalists in the country - described the bill as "unconstitutional", and an attempt by the government to muzzle the press.

If the bill becomes law, no media outlet will be allowed to operate without an annually renewable licence, which the commission can suspend or cancel.

It can also close down media and impose big fines

Hostile press

The BBC's Ebrima Sillah in Banjul says the commission would enjoy the status of a high court, although most of its members have no legal background.

Our correspondent says it would have the power to admit evidence that would be ruled inadmissible in an ordinary court.

Journalists say they will not cooperate with the government in implementing the law.

In January, President Yahya Jammeh sealed his hold on power with a landslide victory in parliamentary polls boycotted by much of the opposition.

The opposition also accuse Mr Jammeh of fixing last year's presidential elections.

President Jammeh first seized power in a military coup in 1994, and has made it clear he favours one-party rule.

Ebrima Sillah, Focus on Africa
"Journalists will not implement the law."
See also:

18 Jan 02 | Africa
Gambia poll landslide
29 Oct 01 | Africa
Gambian rights activist released
25 Oct 01 | Africa
Gambia slips towards repression
19 Oct 01 | Africa
Gambia's president wins election
04 Oct 01 | Africa
Violence mars Gambia campaign
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