German court to try man for role in RSF correspondent’s murder in Gambia in 2004

An alleged member of the hit squad that murdered the correspondent of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in Gambia 18 years ago is due to go on trial in Germany next week. RSF welcomes this decisive step in the quest for justice and hopes the trial will serve as an example for the prosecution of all those who murdered journalists under former dictator Yahya Jammeh.

The trial of Bai Lowe, a 46-year-old Gambian who was arrested in Hanover in March 2021, will open in the northern city of Celle on 25 April. He is charged with crimes against humanity and his alleged role in three murders including that of RSF’s Gambia correspondent, Deyda Hydara.

Hydara, who was also AFP’s correspondent and edited the privately-owned Gambian newspaper Le Point, was fatally shot on the night of on 16 December 2004 while in his car with two people who worked for the newspaper. He was regarded as one of Gambia’s leading journalists and was well known for his column entitled “Good morning Mr. President,” in which he commented on Gambia’s politics and government.

Lowe is alleged to have been the driver of the “Junglers,” a hit squad used to eliminate Jammeh’s opponents, and to have been driving the vehicle – a taxi with no licence plate – that was used to carry out Hydara’s murder.

Nearly 20 years after our correspondent’s murder in a country where the then dictatorship committed the worst atrocities and where many journalists paid the price, German justice has a new historic opportunity to show the world the strength of the determination to end impunity in the most desperate situations,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “After two decades of fighting for justice, this trial can serve an example and as a warning that, despite the passage of time, the barriers of impunity can yield to the determination of journalists and their families to obtain justice.”

The trial, the first based on universal jurisdiction to try human rights violations committed under Jammeh, will be closed followed by the Hydara family. Baba Hydara, Deyda’s son, told RSF that the German judicial system was about to enter history by trying the former president’s violations against the Gambian people.

We are convinced that justice will prevail and that our family and all the other victims will be able to derive some comfort from these proceedings,” he said. “We also hope that the final verdict will remind all governments around the world that crimes committed will always be punished, no matter how long it takes.”

The names of all the participants in Hydara’s murder are known. They were named by a member of Jammeh’s hit squad when he appeared before Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) in July 2019 and said it was Jammeh himself who ordered Hydara’s murder. RSF continues to seek the extradition of Jammeh, who has found refuge in Equatorial Guinea.

Four “Junglers” participated in Hydara’s murder. As well as Lowe, they were the squad’s leader, Tumbul Tamba, who has since died; Sanna Manjang, who is wanted for many crimes and has fled the country; and Malick Jatta, who testified to the TRRC in July 2019. Jatta was held in a military prison but was later released.

The trial of Lowe, who is facing life imprisonment, is expected to continue until early next year. He is not the first person to be charged on the basis of universal jurisdiction for crimes committed under Jammeh in Gambia. Another “Jungler,” Michael Correa, 43, was charged in the United States in June 2020 with torturing persons detained after a failed coup attempt against Jammeh in 2006.

In its final report in December 2021, the TRRC recommended that Jammeh should be tried for Hydara’s murder, journalist Ebrima Manneh’s disappearance in July 2006, arson attacks on Radio 1 FM in 2001 during a crackdown on journalists and The Independentnewspaper, and the torture of all the journalists arrested during his dictatorship.

Gambia is ranked 85th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index, having risen more than 30 places since Adama Barrow became president in 2017.

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