Reporters Without Borders issued a new appeal to President Yahya Jammeh today, on the eve of the first anniversary of journalist Deyda Hydara’s murder on 16 December 2004, urging him to acknowledge the inability of the Gambian investigators to solve the case and asking him to request the help of a neutral foreign police force.
In a speech read on behalf of Reporters Without Borders by Gambia Press Union coordinator Demba Ali Jawo today in Banjul, the organisation reiterated its call to the Gambian government “to face the facts and equip itself to solve this terrible mystery by requesting help from the Americans, Europeans, South Africa, the UN or any other neutral country or body.”
Léonard Vincent, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk, should have delivered the speech personally at a Gambia Press Union news conference on press freedom but he was prevented from travelling to Banjul because the Gambian authorities did not issue him a visa in time.
What do we know today, one year after Deyda’s murder? That his killers are cowards and that they are still at large. That the person who pulled the trigger has no reason to be concerned about his future, as things stand right now, any more than the person who gave the order to do it. That Deyda’s family has to live with this. That his widow, daughters and sons courageously confront a smear campaign by perverse investigators. And that his fellow journalists are not only threatened by an aggressive president but also by one of the worst sets of laws in Africa. But as each day passes we get stronger, because each day that passes just adds to the outcry.
For all these reasons, I am sad to be unable to be with you today. I am also angry at being unable to go with you to the scene of the murder on Sankung Sillah Street and transmit to you there a message from Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard that we have not forgotten you and that we are your allies. Deyda, who had worked for our organisation since 1994, was an energetic man who knew his rights. In The Point, he held up a mirror to the Gambian people. In Agence France-Presse, he was Gambia’s spokesman for the entire world’s press. He knew how to talk to us, at times to shake us. He knew how to share with us his concerns, his anger and his enthusiasm. No one answered his phone on the morning of 17 December 2004. Someone had decided to silence him for ever. Tears were shed in Paris, as in Banjul and elsewhere in the world.
No one whatsoever has been accused of being the murderer. We do not know the identity of the gunmen in the Mercedes taxis with no licence plates. We do not know who their boss was. Our anger is on a par with our uncertainty and for this very human reason we demand to know the truth.
After this stifling year of tension, mistrust and fear, things must be clear. If Reporters Without Borders cannot be with you today in Banjul, if I cannot myself read my speech to you, it is because President Yahya Jammeh now sees Reporters Without Borders as an enemy or at the very least as a troublemaker. But what do we want? We just want justice to be done. How? By discovering the truth. This goal is simple. There is nothing subversive about it. It should be shared by all those who cannot stand injustice, whether they are presidents, ministers, journalists, ordinary citizens or human rights activists. Indeed, I would like to say something to the Gambian government: “Help us. Deyda’s family and friends need you. Promises given with your hand over your heart are not enough. We now need action.”
But we have to be realistic. The investigation is going nowhere. I will not dwell on the “confidential report” which the NIA published in June. Let us just say that the investigators are not doing anything serious. Anyway, those who have something to say refuse to talk to them because they do not trust them. And without doubt, others also would have things to say but they are not being questioned.
There is no denying the fact that Gambia has been reeling since Deyda’s death. The country has been badly hurt. The trust between press and government that is essential to keep a democracy alive is broken. As Pap Saine told me one day, Deyda’s murderers have an immense debt to pay Gambia. The authorities cannot go on ignoring the legitimate appeals of one of the country’s most respected families. Deyda’s family and friends are demanding justice, but it is not just for them, it is also for the good of their country.
Reporters Without Borders would like to send a special greeting to all those friends of Deyda present here today who are not Gambians. Your help is essential, not just to show our Gambian friends that we share in their suffering. You are here today in Banjul to prove that the three shots that were fired at Deyda’s car on the night of 16 December 2004 in Kanifing have echoed throughout the continent. This horrible murder is not just a matter for Gambians. It has sent a terrifying signal to all African journalists that they could also be gunned down if they do their job too well.
Let us continue to loudly proclaim Deyda’s name in Ghana, Mali, Senegal, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Sierra Leone and elsewhere. Let us continue to say that we will no longer tolerate this kind of threat to leading African journalists such as Norbert Zongo, Carlos Cardoso and Deyda in the past, and others today. Let us continue to demand that the Gambian government should face the facts and equip itself to solve this terrible mystery by requesting help from the Americans, Europeans, South Africa, the UN or any other neutral country or body. The resources of Reporters Without Borders are also at the Gambian government’s full disposal.
I would like to end my appeal by addressing President Jammeh directly. “Mr. President, a French philosopher recently wrote something you will have to agree with. He said: ‘It is not because things are the way they are that we have to be resigned. It is because we are resigned that things are they way they are.’ As Deyda might have said, I leave you to think about that. Good thinking, Mr. President.”