Historic verdict in quest for justice for murder of RSF’s Gambia correspondent in 2004
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) hails a German court’s historic decision to convict a Gambian citizen of a crime against humanity for his role in the murder of RSF’s correspondent in The Gambia, Deyda Hydara, in 2004, as well as a second murder and an attempted murder. This is the first time that human rights violations that took place in The Gambia under former dictator Yahya Jammeh have been tried internationally. The main instigator of Hydara’s murder, Jammeh must now be extradited to The Gambia or a third country for trial, RSF says.
This historic verdict in the quest for justice for Deyda Hydara was handed down today (30 November) by the regional high court in Celle, in northwestern Germany. The court sentenced Gambian citizen Bai L., a former member of a paramilitary unit created by Jammeh called the “Junglers”, to life imprisonment on charges of crimes against humanity, murder and attempted murder. He was in particular prosecuted for his role in the murder, in the capital, Banjul, on 16 December 2004, of journalist and RSF correspondent Deyda Hydara.
This trial is the first to be held abroad to prosecute human rights violations committed in Gambia during the Jammeh era. In convicting Bai L. of a crime against humanity for Hydara’s murder, the German court recognised that it was orchestrated by Jammeh as part of an overall and systematic assault against Gambia’s civilian population, in particular against opponents of the regime, including journalists.
This verdict is a major advance for Deyda's family in their quest for justice, and a historic day for the entire Gambian press, of which he was a tireless defender. RSF worked hard so that this verdict could be rendered, but the fight does not stop here. The real instigator, the dictator Yahya Jammeh and all his accomplices, must now be held to account for their crimes. We continue to work for his extradition from Equatorial Guinea to be tried in The Gambia or a third country as soon as possible.
Deyda Hydara was under surveillance during the Jammeh regime
One of his country’s best known journalists, Deyda Hydara co-founded and edited the newspaper The Point, was The Gambia correspondent of Agence France-Presse and RSF, and wrote a widely-read column in The Point called “Good morning, Mr President.” RSF revealed that a Gambian intelligence agency was spying on him shortly before his death.
Aged 48, Bai L. has been detained since his arrest in March 2021 in Germany, where he had been living since 2012. As well as being tried for Hydara’s murder, he was also tried for a former soldier’s murder in 2006 and the attempted murder of a lawyer in 2003. The court determined all three crimes to have been crimes against humanity because they were part of Jammeh’s generalised offensive against the population.
A historic verdict after a long fight against impunity
The trial’s many witnesses included Pap Saine, Hydara’s friend and co-founder of The Point. Hydara’s son, Baba Hydara, who is also a journalist, registered as a civil party in the case. RSF’s German section facilitated the presence of Gambian journalists covering the trial. It was thanks to RSF’s German section that three journalists, including Pap Saine, were able to go to Celle in June 2022 to cover the first part of the trial and that Baba Hydara was present again for the final stage and verdict.
It was at a meeting with Gambian President Adama Barrow, during a visit to the country in November 2022, that RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire first issued a call for Jammeh, who fled to Equatorial Guinea in 2017, to be extradited back to The Gambia or to a third country to stand trial. While in Banjul, Deloire also paid tribute to Hydara at his grave and visited the car in which he was murdered.