For several years, Reporters Without Borders has been trying unsuccessfully to alert international opinion to the state of press freedom in the Gambia of President Yahya Jammeh. Neither the African Union, nor the United States or the UK appear to have taken seriously the agonised appeals from journalists in this small English-speaking country surrounded by Senegal. As a result, the situation worsens year by year.
The year 2005 began with a bereavement. Deyda Hydara, one of the most respected figures in Gambian journalism, correspondent for Reporters Without Borders and AFP, was cold-bloodedly murdered on 16 December 2004. Many people, rightly or wrongly, saw the hand of the government in the killing that was carried out by hit men. After two investigations in the field, Reporters Without Borders found that the killing had been part of a series of attacks against journalists and other figures who were seen as “troublemakers”. Each time there was the same method of operation, use of cars without license plates and the prior issuing of death threats. The first ever murder of a Reporters Without Borders correspondent, since it was founded in 1985, fitted into the pattern of many press freedom violations recorded in Gambia over several years, in which the intelligence services are the main suspects or those designated to carry it out. Reporters Without Borders has finally uncovered the fact that Deyda Hydara was threatened and under security services surveillance just a few minutes before he was killed, a few hundred metres from a police barracks.
Despite evidence of a political crime, the official investigation went nowhere. In June, the intelligence services published a “confidential report” on its investigations, complacently going into the journalist’s private life and building up absurd theories about the motives for the killing. In fact, it was used to denigrate Hydara and to create a diversion.
The year ended on a scandal. After refusing to allow a representative of Reporters Without Borders into Gambia, the government sent an armed police riot squad unit to block access to the scene of the crime to Hydara’s friends and family, who had planned to pay tribute to him there on the first anniversary of his death.