Reporters Without Borders today reminded leaders from democratic countries attending ceremonies in Banjul during the next two days to mark the start of another five-year term for Gambian President Yahya Jammeh that 16 December will be the second anniversary of journalist Deyda Hydara’s still unpunished murder.
The organisation said it particularly warned Taiwanese Prime Minister Su Tseng-Chang, whose government is a strong supporter of the Jammeh regime, against continuing to back a ruler who is on its list of press freedom predators.
“With 10 journalists arrested in 2006, one missing, many others in exile, countless unpunished crimes in which the president’s supporters are suspected of being the perpetrators or accomplices, a murdered journalist’s memory besmirched by the government and a permanent climate of fear - Jammeh’s record on press freedom is appalling,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“Gambia’s president proclaims his contempt for the rules of democracy,” the press freedom organisation added. “We appeal to the leaders of democratic governments who are being wooed by this aggressive regime to not let themselves be accomplices to these crimes and to instead help Gambia’s journalists recover their freedom.”
Many foreign heads of state and government have been invited to the sumptuous, two-day ceremony starting tomorrow at which Jammeh, who seized power in a 1994 coup and who won a questionable reelection victory in September with 67.4 per cent of the vote, will be reinstalled for another term. Jammeh has said it will be a “very great victory celebration and an opportunity for Gambian youth to develop their musical talents.”
Co-founder and editor of the newspaper The Point and Banjul correspondent for Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Reporters Without Borders, Hydara was shot dead at the wheel of his car in a street adjoining a police barracks as he was driving two employees home on the evening of 16 December 2004. He had previously received threats from the National Intelligence Agency, which had him under surveillance a few minutes before he was gunned down.
No serious attempt was made to identify either the perpetrators or instigators of this murder. The only official statement from the Gambian officials responsible for the investigation came six months later. Referring to Hydara as “provocative,” it absurdly suggested that the murder could have been linked to his sex life.
Asked about Hydara’s murder in September of this year, President Jammeh said: “I don’t believe in killing people. I believe in locking you up for the rest of your life. Then maybe at some point we say: ‘Oh, he is too old to be fed by the state,’ we release him and let him become destitute. Then everybody will learn a lesson from him.”
To a question from a journalist about the frequent arbitrary arrests of journalists and the illegal closure of the privately-owned biweekly The Independent, Jammeh replied: “Let the world go to hell. If I have good reasons of closing down any newspaper offices I will do so.”
The Independent, whose printing press was torched in 2004 by men identified as National Guardsmen by an opposition parliamentarian, has been illegally prevented from publishing since 28 March and its premises have been placed under a seal. One of its journalists, Lamin Fatty, was held for more than a month without seeing a lawyer and is being prosecuted under a draconian law providing for long prison terms.
The Independent’s general manager Madi Ceesay, who is also president of the Gambia Press Union, and the newspaper’s editor, Musa Saidykhan, were themselves held incommunicado in a completely illegal manner for nearly three weeks, from 28 March to 20 Avril.
At least 10 journalists have been arrested and held in a similar fashion this year. One of them “Chief” Ebrima Manneh, who worked for the privately-owned pro-government Daily Observer, has been missing since 7 July.