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Gambia15 December 2008

Journalists still live in fear four years after unpunished murder of Deyda Hydara

Reporters Without Borders today expressed its disgust at the obstruction and bad faith of the Gambian authorities who have allowed continuing impunity to the killers of Deyda Hydara, co-founder of privately-owned daily The Point, four years after his murder on 16 December 2004.

Hydara, who was also correspondent in Gambia for Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Reporters Without Borders, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen travelling in a taxi as he was driving his car in an outlying district of the capital Banjul.

“The few public promises made by the Gambian authorities in this case are smokescreens that fail to hide the obvious contempt in which President Yahya Jammeh holds journalists”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “In truth, the aim of the killers of Deyda Hydara was to silence Gambians by submitting them to fear of the “president’s men”. Only a campaign by those who do not live with this fear can make this plan fail”, the organisation added.

In the weeks after the killing, Reporters Without Borders, which carried out its own investigation, made public its strong suspicion of the Gambian security services and in particular the “Green Boys” a semi-clandestine group of partisans of the Gambian president.

There were several reasons for believing that Deyda Hydara was targeted to silence fierce criticism regularly levelled at the government by this journalist, former president of the Gambia Press Union (GPU) and dean of the country’s journalists.

The police investigation promised by the Gambian authorities got nowhere. The only official report, sent to the press by the Gambian intelligence services in 2005, was “confidential”, outlining several leads, most of them absurd, which were supposedly intended to shed light on the circumstances of the killings.

Since that date, most of the key witnesses to the case have disappeared, including the then director of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Daba Marenah, of whom nothing more has been heard since he was arrested after being implicated in an alleged coup attempt.

The Gambian press, reduced to a few privately-owned newspapers under close government scrutiny is trying to survive in a climate in which the least incident is severely punished. Arbitrary arrest, threats and police brutality are now commonplace in a country ruled by a head of state who in several interviews has expressed his contempt and distrust for the media.

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