Eight years after killing of Deyda Hydara, Gambia press remains unfree
IPI condemns continued attacks on media
By: Naomi Hunt, Senior Press Freedom Adviser
VIENNA, Dec. 18, 2012 – Friday marked the anniversary of the assassination of journalist Deyda Hydara in The Gambia in 2004. As a founder and editor of The Point newspaper, Hydara was known for his criticism of President Yahya Jammeh’s iron-fisted rule. Jammeh is still president, but eight years on, Hydara’s killers have not been brought to justice. Moreover, privately-owned media and the journalists working for such outlets continue to be the target of harassment, detention and threats.
IPI Press Freedom Manager Barbara Trionfi said: “It is a violation of journalists’ rights and press freedom that Gambian security authorities are ordering the closure of media and carrying out apparently spurious investigations against journalists and their family members.”
In recent months, three media houses have reportedly been shut down on the orders of officers from the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), and it is not clear if they will be permitted to resume their work. Teranga FM was closed because, despite receiving a warning, it continued to broadcast a program that translated English-language news into local languages. The Daily News and The Standard newspapers, the sources of some of that news, were shut down next. Their publishers are still trying to obtain an official explanation.
Journalists face various forms of harassment. One journalist who recently left the Gambia after having been detained by police for days and then intensively investigated on apparently spurious criminal charges, and who later said he received death threats, now says that his younger brother is facing police harassment. Freelance journalist Abubacarr Saidykhan told IPI that his brother Ousman must now check in with police each morning, and was told that he will be arrested if he fails to show up.
As IPI reported, Saidykhan and fellow journalist Babucarr Ceesay were finally cleared last month of criminal charges filed in September. They were detained after they lodged an application with police to hold a peaceful demonstration. In the weeks during which they were under investigation for allegedly inciting violence and alleged conspiracy to commit a felony, the journalists spent days each week checking in with police. Ceesay, who reports for the African Review, was additionally charged with seditious publication although he was never told which news articles were allegedly seditious.
Another reporter, Abdoulie John, who works for the Associated Press, is trying to figure out why he spent more than 24 hours in the custody of the National Intelligence Agency last weekend, and why he is now apparently under investigation.
Last weekend, John was assigned to cover the release of Senegalese soldiers who had been kidnapped by rebels in the Casamance region of Senegal, and who were to be brought to the Gambia before being freed. With the permission of organisers from the Roman Catholic Sant’Egidio Community, which had negotiated the soldiers’ release, John joined the convoy in the Gambia that was heading to the Senegalese border.
John said that he became caught up in an argument with the official State House photographer during the trip, after the latter asked John who had given him permission to be there. The State House photographer then allegedly used his connections to NIA higher-ups to have John detained in a military truck for several hours and later brought to NIA headquarters in the capital, Banjul, where John spent the night, according to reports and local journalists. On Thursday, Dec 13, John was asked to report back to NIA headquarters, where he was asked about who had given him permission to travel with the convoy last week. As he’s under investigation, John had to give up his passport and have a relative sign a bail bond.
IPI Press Freedom Manager Barbara Trionfi said: “It is not clear why Abdoulie John is under investigation, just as it was unclear what ‘crime’ Abubacarr Saidykhan and Babucarr Saidykhan were allegedly conspiring to commit in September. We call on President Yahyah Jammeh to uphold the rule of law and ensure that the media and journalists in The Gambia are free to work in safety and in accordance with international press freedom standards.”
*Correction: This article mistakenly stated that it has been ten years since Deyda Hydara was killed. It has been eight years.