On the sixth anniversary of leading Gambian journalist Deyda Hydara’s still unsolved murder, Reporters Without Borders appeals to the authorities to stop obstructing an independent investigation and urges President Yahya Jammeh to liberalize the country’s media legislation by repealing the laws that were adopted in 2004.
Hydara’s murder on 16 December 2004 and the promulgation two weeks later of the Newspaper Amendment Act 2004 and the Criminal Code Amendment Bill 2004 ended an era in which the privately-owned media could stand up to the government. Since then, Gambia’s journalists have lived in fear of legislation on defamation and the “publication of false information” that is among the most repressive in West Africa.
“The authorities have always blocked the investigation into Deyda Hydara’s death, making it impossible for the truth to emerge,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said. “Six years later, we fear that justice will never be rendered. His colleagues continue to endure President Jammeh’s hostility towards the media. We urge him to amend the press laws and finally let the press breathe.”
The joint founder and editor of the daily The Point, the Gambia correspondent of Agence France-Presse and Reporters Without Borders, and the former president of the Gambia Press Union, Hydara was at the wheel of his car in a Banjul suburb on the evening of 16 December when he was shot dead by unidentified gunmen travelling in a taxi.
After carrying out its own investigation in Banjul, Reporters Without Borders issued a report in entitled “Deyda Hydara, the death of a journalist under surveillance” in which it said there were serious grounds for suspecting that the Gambian security services, working with a semi-clandestine group of Jammeh supporters called the Green Boys, killed Hydara because of his frequent criticism of the government and his ability to influence his fellow journalists.
The Gambian authorities promised to investigate Hydara’s murder but no serious investigation was ever carried out. A “confidential report” by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) was given to the press in 2005 but it contained little aside from some absurd theories about his death. It was the only official document about Hydara’s murder ever released by the authorities.
Since then, most of the key potential witnesses have disappeared, including the then head of the NIA, Daba Marenah. There has been no word of Marenah since he was arrested after being implicated in an alleged coup attempt.
President Jammeh has on several occasions denied any government role in the murder, suggesting instead that his death was linked to a romantic liaison.