- Independent Gambian journalists and the Gambia Press Union (GPU) are organising a week-long protest against the murder of 'The Point' editor Deida Hydara last week. No independent newspaper will be published this week and journalists instead hand out leaflets with photographs of Mr Hydara and appeals to strengthen press freedom.
The 58-year-old editor of The Gambia's weekly independent 'The Point' was gunned down by unknown killers last Thursday in what is the gravest attack against the country's remaining free press so far. Mr Hydara also worked for the French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) and for the Paris-based press freedom group, Reporters sans Frontiers (RSF).
Gambian journalist and the GPU trade union hold that the increasingly dictatorial government of President Yaya Jammeh is responsible for the killing. State security agents are suspected to have executed the killing. Mr Hydara's assailants had a clear motive to "finish him off", witnesses in The Gambia say.
With its protest action, the GPU is making sure that Gambians this time perceive the constant threats to the country's independent press. "We will not be intimidated," one of the journalists' slogans directed against the government goes. Other slogans demand the restoration of freedom for the press in The Gambia.
Gambian authorities categorically have denied any connection to the unknown killers of Mr Hydara. To underline this, high governmental officials - including the Secretary of State for Information, the Attorney General and the Secretary of State for Justice - attended Friday's funeral of the editor. They were joined by numerous opposition leaders, labour leaders, journalists, the family and friends.
Despite government pledges to investigate the murder of Mr Hydara, Gambian journalists mostly do not believe that the killer or those behind him will be brought to justice. As President Jammeh has taken on increasingly dictatorial powers, he has manipulated elections and turned violent against the independent press. He has used a group calling itself the "Green Boys" - said to be close to the ruling party - to organise most attacks.
In the case that new and draconic press laws did not stop critical reporting, journalists have been physically attacked. Indeed, local journalists are surprised that earlier attacks did not lead to someone being killed. The bi-weekly newspaper 'The Independent', for example, already has been the victim of two arson attacks. The perpetrators were never apprehended.
Alagi Yerro Jallow, managing editor of 'The Independent', in January this year was threatened by the "Green Boys", saying they would "eliminate" him if the paper did not cease publishing stories about Baba Jobe, the majority leader in the Gambian parliament. Although the police promised to investigate and bring the perpetrators to account, nothing was ever heard of their investigations.
Again, on 15 August, the home of Ebrima Sillah, Banjul correspondent for the BBC, was set ablaze by suspected arsonists. That attack came barely a month after President Jammeh had warned "opposition journalists" at a rally to celebrate the dictator's ten years in office, that they would pay a high price for their dissidence.
One week earlier, on 7 August, Demba Jawo, the President of the GPU, received an anonymous letter which had been placed at the gate of his house, threatening him for "always going hard on our good President." The ominous letter warned that, "Very soon we will teach one of your journalists a very good lesson so that all of you will learn one or two things from him."
- Was the murder of Hydara a self-fulfilling prophecy? asks the Ghana-based Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA). "The killing of Deyda Hydara is the culmination of a growing state of impunity under the government of Yaya Jammeh," says Kwame Karikari, Executive Director of the MFWA.
The murder of Mr Hydara comes barely two days after the country's government-controlled parliament approved a new and draconic Criminal Code, in spite of protests by the opposition and appeals by local and international media and human rights bodies. Under the new legislation, any journalist found guilty of libel, slander and related offences - now loosely defined to include the publication or broadcast of "derogatory, contemptuous or insulting" - material, is "liable to imprisonment for a terms not les than six months, without the option of a fine."
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