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International community urged to react five years after prominent journalist's murder

International community urged to react five years after prominent journalist’s murder

Published on Tuesday 15 December 2009.
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On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the still unpunished murder of Deyda Hydara, the joint editor of the Banjul-based daily The Point, on 16 December 2004, Reporters Without Borders condemns the investigation’s obstruction by President Yahya Jammeh’s government and the international community’s failure to do anything about it.

“We express our solidarity with Hydara’s family and colleagues and with the Gambian press, which has been subjected to fear, silence and injustice since December 2004,” Reporters Without Borders said. “In view of the Gambian government’s lack of good faith, we urge the US intelligence services to release the information about Hydara’s death that they have at their disposal.”

The press freedom organisation added: “We also appeal to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which is currently located in Banjul, to move its headquarters to another African capital.”

In an interview for the state-owned TV station GRTS in June, President Jammeh denied that the authorities were in any way involved in Hydara’s murder and suggested that his death was linked to his sex life.

When six leading journalists, including the editor and publisher of The Point and the editor of the opposition newspaper Foroyaa, issued a statement on behalf of the Gambia Press Union calling the president’s comments “inappropriate” and “provocative,” they were sentenced to two years in prison on charges of defamation and “seditious publication,” spending a month in jail until freed on a presidential pardon.

The Agence France-Presse and Reporters Without Borders Gambia correspondent as well as The Point co-editor, Hydara was shot dead by gunmen travelling in a taxi while he was at the wheel of his car in a Banjul suburb on the night of 16 December 2004.

After carrying out its own investigation in Banjul, Reporters Without Borders issued a report in May 2005 entitled "Deyda Hydara, the murder of a journalist under surveillance" highlighting the serious grounds for suspecting that the Gambian security services and a semi-clandestine group of Jammeh supporters called the Green Boys were responsible for the murder.

The circumstances indicated that Hydara, who headed the Gambia Press Union and was the doyen of the country’s journalists, was targeted because of his frequent critical comments about the government.

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 a number of mostly 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.

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