Deyda Hydara

Photo: EPA

Deyda Hydara, outspoken journalist and co-founder of The Point newspaper, was brutally murdered on his way home from work on the night of 16 December 2004.

That night, the journalist drove two of his colleagues, Isatou Jagne and Niansarang Jobe, home after an office celebration of his publication's 13th anniversary. As he turned the car onto Sankung Sillah Street, he slowed down to let another car pass. Instead, a man in that car repeatedly shot at him from the passenger seat. Hydara, who was killed immediately, was hit by a bullet in his left temple and in his chest. The latter bullet also hit his colleague Jagne in the ankle, and a third bullet hit Jobe's knee.

Jagne, who had been sitting in the front passenger seat, managed to get out of the car before it landed in a ditch on the side of the road. She sought assistance from policemen at a nearby police garage. When other officers arrived several minutes later, the two women were taken to a police station and, after refusing to issue statements, finally to a hospital in Banjul. They soon flew to Dakar, Senegal, for medical treatment, and have since refused to disclose their location out of fear for their safety.

Hydara was an outspoken advocate of press freedom. In his last published article for The Point, he announced his plans to challenge two controversial laws introduced in The Gambia on 14 December 2004: the Criminal Code (Amendment) Bill 2004, imposing prison sentences for press offences such as defamation and sedition; and the Newspaper (Amendment) Bill 2004, requiring expensive operating licenses and obligating newspaper owners to register their homes as security for the payment of any fines.

The investigation into Hydara's murder has yielded no results. In February 2005, authorities arrested Mahmoud Wally Hakim, a businessman, in whose home several firearms were found. In the past, Hakim and Hydara had argued over Hydara's reporting on the government. However, local journalists were sceptical about his possible implication in the murder. The only proceedings initiated against Hakim were based on the unlawful possession and importation of firearms, and the case against him was withdrawn in November 2006.

Many have instead pointed to the "Green Boys", an officially disbanded group consisting of young activists from the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction's (APRC) most radical wing. The group has been tied to several threats made against journalists in 2004, including Alagi Yorro Jallow, managing editor of The Independent. Before his death, Hydara received similar warnings, with an anonymous letter in July 2004 threatening to "teach a very good lesson" to anyone criticising President Yahya Jammeh.

Deyda Hydara was born on 9 June 1946 in Banjul. He began his media career with Radio Syd. Starting in 1974, he worked as a correspondent for Agence France Presse, and later also worked as a correspondent for The Senegambia Sun and, from 1994 onwards, for Reporters without Borders. He co-founded The Point, an independent newspaper, with Pap Saine in 1991, and wrote several regular columns including "The Bite", "Good Morning", and "Mr. President". Hydara was also the treasurer of the West Africa Journalists Association. He was married to Maria Dacosta, with whom he had four children.

In 2005, the PEN American Center awarded Deyda Hydara its PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, which honours writers who "have fought courageously in the face of adversity of the right to freedom of expression".

UPDATE: Investigations into Hydara's murder have not continued. In June 2009, President Jammeh made comments disparaging a question about the stalled investigation. He said his government “has for long been accused by the international community and so-called human rights organizations for the murder of Deyda Hydara, but we have no stake in this issue." Referring to independent paper The Point, whose editor Pap Saine has faced numerous frivolous and expensive lawsuits from state prosecutors, Jammeh added, " And up to now one of these stupid Web sites carries “Who Killed Deyda Hydara”?  Let them go and ask Deyda Hydara who killed him.”

12 November 2008: IPI launches Justice Denied campaign, calling for the investigation into the murder of Deyda Hydara, among other issues.

November 2006: The only charges filed against Mahmoud Wally Hakim are dropped.

February 2005
: Businessman Mahmoud Wally Hakim, with whom Deyda Hydara had argued in the past, is found to possess firearms and arrested. Local journalists, however, question his involvement in the murder.

16 December 2004: Deyda Hydara's last published article reasserts his commitment to challenge the country's new media laws. That evening, Deyda Hydara is shot to death on his way home from work.

15 December 2004: An article written by Deyda Hydara criticizes the new media laws and vows to challenge them in court.

14 December 2004
: Two controversial media laws, imposing onerous licensing requirements and introducing prison sentences for offences such as sedition, are approved by The Gambia's National Assembly.