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Gambia7 June 2005

Dismay at government-orchestrated campaign to smear slain journalist

Reporters Without Borders voiced "revulsion" today at a government-orchestrated campaign to smear murdered journalist Deyda Hydara, particularly in a newly released report by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) on its ongoing investigation into his death, which is full of gratuitous detail about his private life and absurd theories about the motives for the murder.

"Do we have to remind the NIA that Deyda Hydara was the victim and not the suspect in last December’s fatal ambush?" the press freedom organisation asked. "His family and friends have already suffered enough and should not have to put up with the government’s attempts to divert attention."

Reporters Without Borders continued: "This smear campaign based on trashy police procedures will not succeed in covering up the negligence of the investigators. The NIA has just demonstrated its ineptitude by publishing this collection of malicious gossip in the hope of soiling the memory of a respected journalist slain six months ago by gunmen who are still at large."

The organisation added: "Until now, we were just amazed at the torpor and fumbling of the government investigators. But now we are convinced that they have decided to never reveal the truth and are prepared to stoop to anything to get their way."

In an interview published on 3 June in the pro-government Daily Observer, interior minister Babucarr Jatta described the Hydara case as "a national issue" and dismissed as "premature" the calls made by Reporters Without Borders and Hydara’s partner, Pap Saine, for foreign police to assist the investigation. Gambia’s police and security agents must complete their own enquiries, he said.

The same day, the NIA sent copies of a 23-page report on the state of its investigation to all of the news media in the capital. Reporters Without Borders has obtained a copy. It is a compilation of all the information obtained by the police and the NIA on "the shooting incident resulting in the death of Mr. Deyda Hydara."

The report points out that the NIA took over the investigation on 8 February, after the police inspector general drafted "an interim report which was found to be inadequate and gave no substantial lead." Although stamped "confidential," the entire 23-page report was published yesterday in the Daily Observer at the government’s behest.

In the chapter on "findings," the NIA report says Hydara’s newspaper, The Point, became famous for its "virulent unguarded attacks on all and sundry in the present government, prominent Gambians, public institutions, private enterprises, individual businessmen and groups, international organizations, security agents, and international figures, etc."

It said Hydara was "invited" several times to meetings with the security services "to be cautioned and advised to set records straight, particularly whenever he had erred and was way off the path upholding the canons and ethics of journalism profession."

The report then goes into detail about strictly personal aspects of Hydara’s life that have no bearing on the murder. In its conclusions, it says that the most likely motive for the murder was either personal revenge, especially by a jealous husband, or a desire to cover up "financial misappropriation" by his partner and childhood friend, Pap Saine.

The co-founder and editor of The Point, an independent newspaper that appears three times a week, and the correspondent of Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Reporters Without Borders, Hydara was gunned down behind the wheel of his car as he was driving two employees home late at night on 16 December. He was an outspoken critic of two laws curbing press freedom that were passed by the national assembly on the eve of his murder.

Reporters Without Borders made two fact-finding visits to Gambia, in December and April, partly to support his family and his newspaper, but also in attempt to advance an investigation that was going nowhere. The organisation was able to reconstruct how Hydara spent his last day and it identified a number of leads and hypotheses which any serious investigators ought to have pursued.

In particular, the organisation discovered that his murder, which was carried out by professionals, followed the pattern of a series of attacks against journalists and other figures who had upset the authorities. The circumstances, the method of operation, the recurring use of cars with no licence plates and preceding death threats were similar in every case. Hydara’s murder matches the pattern of many press freedom violations in recent years in Gambia and in all of these cases, the NIA has been identified as the perpetrator or leading suspect.

By piecing together information in the accounts provided by different sources, Reporters Without Borders also discovered that Hydara was under surveillance by the security services and was still being watched just minutes before he was murdered a few hundred metres from a police barracks.



In this country
24 April - Gambia
Regional group asked to intercede on behalf of missing journalist
12 March - Gambia
Adjournment of trials facing editor of the daily The Point
5 February - Gambia
The Point editor faces trial on “false information” charge for reporting diplomat’s arrest
15 December - Gambia
Journalists still live in fear four years after unpunished murder of Deyda Hydara
18 August - Gambia
Freelance journalist gets four years in prison or heavy fine for criticising president

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