BANJUL (Reuters) - Gambia's parliament has made sweeping changes to the country's information law, introducing new legislation that threatens those who spread "false news" with 15 years in prison and $100,000 in fines.
The government said the changes were needed to ensure stability and prevent "unpatriotic behavior" but they are likely to deepen Gambia's reputation as one of West Africa's most repressive countries.
The new punishments, which apply to anything that is published, were spelled out in the updated Information and Communications Act adopted late on Wednesday.
Gambia's information minister Nana Grey-Johnson, said the law had been put forward to prevent people, at home and abroad, from engaging in "treacherous" campaigns against Gambians.
"They do this by inciting the people to engage in unpatriotic behavior, spreading false news and engaging in criminal defamation against Government officials."
Grey-Johnson added that, if unchecked, such statements were a recipe for chaos and instability in any country.
The previous law dated back to 2009 and had no reference to such punishments.
Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh has ruled the tiny slither of a country surrounded by Senegal since he seized power in a 1994 military coup.
Gambia is ranked near the bottom of a global press freedom ranking drawn up by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders and Jammeh is regularly criticized by rights groups for cracking down on journalists and civil society groups.
(Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Michael Roddy)