On the 40th anniversary of Gambia’s independence today, Reporters Without Borders called on police investigating the murder of journalist Deyda Hydara to examine the possibility that it was political motivated and that, in particular, it may have been carried out by group calling itself the "Green Boys" which has threatened other journalists.
"The shadow of a horrible killing hangs over the Gambian national holiday this year," the press freedom organization said. "We do not understand why, despite promises made by the authorities immediately after Hydara’s death, the Gambian investigators have not considered all the possible motives."
The organization continued: "Most of Hydara’s friends think it was politically motivated. The circumstances and preceding events point to this. Yet the police have never given it serious consideration. On the contrary, the political authorities appear to have excluded it.
"When we call on the Gambian government to do everything possible to solve Hydara’s murder, we believe this includes establishing the identity of the ’Green Boys.’ To be considered serious and credible, the investigation must shed light on this shadowy group of activists who, for the police, should be the leading suspects in our correspondent’s murder."
The "Green Boys" directly threatened Gambian journalists at least three times in 2004, sending them violent and explicit messages with impunity. Initially called the "22 July Movement" after the coup that brought Col. Yahya Jammeh to power on 22 July 1994, the group was formed from young activists who came from the ruling party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC).
Officially disbanded in 1999, they were thereafter dubbed the "Green Boys," after the APRC’s identifying colour. Local sources say members were sent to Libya in the mid-1990s to be instructed in the use of firearms and receive religious training. Back in Gambia, they served as a support group for the ruling party.
The Independent managing editor Alagi Yorro Jallow received a letter signed by the "Green Boys" on 13 January 2004 giving him a "final warning" because of his coverage of the trial of Baba Jobe, the president’s former right-hand man and majority leader in parliament. The message said [with original grammar and punctuation]: "Stop it now or else you will never see a newspaper again. We have also warn you (...) to be very very careful of us stop telling lies and writing about Baba Jobe or you will regret it."
On the night of 12 April, six masked gunmen set fire to The Independent’s printing press. During a national assembly session on 23 July, opposition National Reconciliation Party leader Hamat Bah claimed that two members of the national guard, Cpl. Sanna Manjang and Sherif Guisseh, participated in this arson attack, that Cpl. Manjang sustained burns in the course of the operation, and that he afterwards received treatment for his injuries at the home of the presidential guard commander, Maj. Bajinka. The police never investigated these allegations.
Demba Jawo, the president of the Gambia Press Union (the journalists’ union), received a threatening fax with no originating number or signature on 7 July. Reporters Without Borders has a copy. Claiming to act "in defence of the revolution," the anonymous sender accused Jawo of being an "agent of the west" who was "always happy to go hard on our good president" by means of "ranting and lies."
The fax continued: "Very soon we will teach one of your journalists a very good lesson so that all of you will learn one or two things from him." It concluded: "We are therefore warning you in advance to calm down or we will tame you. Am sure you don’t want your bones and flesh to be thrown to dogs and vultures." There was never any serious police investigation into this threat.
The BBC’s head office in London received an e-mail message signed by the "Green Boys" on 29 July criticising the "negative" reporting of its Gambia correspondent, Ebrahima Sillah. "We will not sit idly by to see that our president is criticised unnecessarily," the message said. Referring to Sillah, it said he had been "warned several times through telephones threats to him, but stubborn as he is, he is not listening. This is the final warning to him." Sillah’s home was set on fire in the early hours of 15 August. This arson attack remains unpunished.
Aged 58, married and the father of four children, Hydara was shot dead at the wheel of his car on the evening of 16 December as he was driving two of his employees home. He had been Reporters Without Borders’ correspondent since 1994 and was one of Gambia’s most respected journalists. Co-founder and co-editor of The Point, a newspaper that appears three times a week, he was also the Agence France-Presse correspondent.
He was one of the most outspoken critics of two new laws drastically curtailing press freedom that were approved by the national assembly two days before his murder. According to several local sources, he had received anonymous threats in the days prior to his death. The police investigation has so far yielded no results.