The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has raised concern over the rise in hate speech by politicians and their supporters as the country prepares for the December 4 presidential election. 

In a lengthy statement, the Commission said it is “perturbed by the rising levels of intolerance, character assassinations, insults and political vilification that are characterizing our national politics. 

“NHRC observes that WhatsApp audios are widely circulated both within the country and among the diaspora the contents of which could only be described as ‘hate speeches’ as they only incite tribal and religious bigotry and are generally full of profanities (or vulgar language) with malicious intent.

“NHRC also notes that the questioning of each other’s ‘Gambianness’ or citizenship rights is also generating animosity in our communities as well as prejudices against certain groups of people, which is unnecessary and unjustified in view of the legal remedies available. 

“The NHRC reminds the public that there are clear guidelines on how to lodge complaints about possible fraudulent voter registration through the Judicial process. 

“The NHRC hereby urges any individual who has information that a registered voter fraudulently acquired Gambian citizenship to lodge the complaint before the Revising Court, and not take the law into his or her hands by arrogating to itself the powers of the Court.

“The NHRC wishes to further state in the strongest term that profanities, casting aspersions on the characters on people, bigotry, statements which would encourage and promote disunity and violence, and vile and hate speeches have no place in our society. 

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“Freedom of speech or expression, while fundamental in a democracy, is not an absolute right with a free ride to insult, defame, degrade, vilify or smear the dignity, character and good name of others. 

“Equally, no individual, community or group has the right to deny right to political association or restrict free movement of people within the country, fundamental human rights guaranteed by the 1997 Constitution and other international legal instruments that The Gambia is a party to.

“The NHRC appreciates the efforts of political party leaders in condemning these uncalled-for utterances and strongly urges all political parties and party leaders to accelerate efforts to maintaining internal party decorum, discipline, and tolerance for divergent viewpoints. 

“Political Parties must not only be seen advocating for democratic governance at the national level but also be seen making tireless efforts to institutionalised elements of democratic governance internally at party level. 

“While some of these profane WhatsApp audios might not have the sanction of any political leadership, they are often uttered in the name of or in defense of a political party. Thus, political party leaders must come out to roundly condemn these utterances when they are done or seemingly to be done in the name of their political parties.

“The NHRC exhorts the general public to exercise political tolerance, respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of others, appreciate the importance of our diversities, and to follow due process, and do everything in its powers to preserve the long-cherished peace and tranquility the country is known for.”

Reporting by Adama Makasuba

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