Reporters Without Borders said today that it was "astounded" at the African Union’s "gift" to Gambian President Yahya Jammeh in the form of a decision to let him host the AU summit in July 2006 despite the murder just weeks ago of a leading newspaper editor and journalist Deyda Hydara.
The press freedom organization pointed out that the decision coincides with the first anniversary of shocking comments by President Jammeh about the attempted murder of leading attorney Ousman Sillah, in which the modus operandi was very similar to that used by the gunmen who killed Hydara.
Many blamed the attempt to kill Sillah on the government and in response to the outcry, President Jammeh had this to say on 9 February 2004:
"My army and my armed forces are professionals and the whole world knows that. The nature of the offense shows that if it were done by my armed forces, there is no soldier in my army who will shoot at a human being twice and miss and you expect that individual to live."
Hydara did not live. He was gunned down at the wheel of his car while driving two of his employees home on the night of on 16 December 2004.
"Gambian journalists are still reeling from Deyda Hydara’s death and now the African Union sends them this bitter message," Reporters Without Borders said.
"President Jammeh is being rewarded despite his intransigence and hostility towards journalists and, what is worse, he has been granted the favour of hosting an international summit just a few months before he plans to run for reelection as president," the press freedom organization said.
"We don’t understand how the AU is making such a gift to Yahya Jammeh without asking for anything in return," the organization said, referring to the lack of progress in the investigation into Hydara’s death and fact that the police are no long considering the possibility of a political motive, although everything point to this.
Reporters Without Borders said, "this decision, announced in the wake of the Abuja summit of 30-31 January, is all the more astounding as it constitutes the only public response from the AU to Hydara’s death."
The organisation noted that, on the eve of the Abuja summit, it had called on the African Union to "publicly condemn" the murder of Hydara, who was the Reporters Without Borders correspondent in Banjul as well as the correspondent of Agence France-Presse and co-editor of The Point, a newspaper that appears three times a week.
Reporters Without Borders had also urged the AU leaders to ask President Jammeh to get the Banjul police investigators to seriously consider the possibility of a political motive.