Obstructive Gambian officials prevented a Reporters Without Borders representative from travelling today to Banjul to attend a conference being held by the Gambia Press Union (GPU) on 15-16 December to mark the first anniversary of the murder of The Point co-editor Deyda Hydara on 16 December 2004, the press freedom organisation said.
“The Gambian government’s ill-will made it impossible for us to be with Hydara’s family to mark the end of a year of mourning,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We deeply regret being unable to go to Banjul to express our solidarity with Gambia’s independent press, which has suffered so much in recent years, but we reaffirm to the family our commitment to see justice done.”
The head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa Desk was unable to depart this morning for Banjul because the Gambian authorities failed to issue a visa in time.
The visa request, accompanied by copies of the airline tickets, a letter of invitation by the GPU and a Reporters Without Borders letter authorising the trip, was handed in to the Gambian embassy in Paris on 24 November. Visas are supposed to take 48 hours to issue. An embassy official said the visa would be ready on 28 November.
Despite Reporters Without Borders’ daily calls to the embassy, no explanation has ever been given for the delay. The Gambian foreign ministry did finally tell Reporters Without Borders that the GPU’s letter of invitation was not valid because it was not addressed to the head of the Africa desk by name. GPU president Madi Ceesay immediately sent a new letter to the ministry while Reporters Without Borders sent a copy to the embassy in Paris.
The Gambian foreign ministry finally gave the green light to its embassy in Paris at 6:30 p.m. yesterday (Paris time), but by then, the consular section was already closed, so it was too late to issue the visa to the Reporters Without Borders representative in time for him to board his flight for Banjul via Dakar at 9 a.m. today. In view of this behaviour by the Gambian authorities, Reporters Without Borders has decided not to go to Banjul.