Sons Seek Justice for Murdered Gambian Journalist

NEW YORK—Two sons of Deyda Hydara, a prominent Gambian newspaper editor who was murdered seven years ago, are taking their call for a full and proper investigation into his death to West Africa’s regional human rights court.

Hydara’s sons Deyda Hydara Jr. and Ismaila Hydara accuse the government of President Yahya Jammeh of failing to investigate their father’s killing on December 16, 2004, in a suit filed before the regional court of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The African Regional Office of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ-Africa) is also an applicant in the case. The applicants are calling on the court to instruct Gambia to properly investigate the murder, and to compensate Hydara’s family for the lack of a proper response so far.

The applicants are represented by the Open Society Justice Initiative and by Aluko & Oyebode, the leading Nigerian law firm.

Deyda Hydara, Jr., who was 14 at the time of his father's killing, said: “We have given the Gambian government several opportunities to conduct a proper investigation, but as we approach the seventh anniversary of my father's death we are still waiting for justice; and we are tired of waiting. We need the authorities to conduct a diligent investigation with a coherent conclusion as to what really happened on that fateful night.” 

Deyda Hydara was one of Gambia’s most distinguished journalists before he was shot to death in a suburb of Banjul, the Gambian capital. He was a leading government critic, writing weekly columns in The Point newspaper, and he mobilized journalists to resist changes to press laws that would have severely muzzled Gambian journalism.

In his last Point column, which appeared on the day of his death, Hydara vowed to continue to challenge such media restrictions through all constitutional means. In the weeks preceding the shooting, he had received multiple death threats by telephone.

The court brief notes that the killing followed a series of physical assaults on critical reporters and publications that had gone unpunished, creating a climate of impunity.

The Gambian authorities subsequently failed to bring Hydara's assailants to justice. On the contrary, they conducted an inadequate investigation and suppressed legitimate calls for a proper inquiry into the killing.

President Jammeh has rejected any suggestion of government involvement in the Hydara killing.

James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, said: “The killing of Deyda Hydara must be properly investigated, and those responsible brought to justice. A proper accounting for his death will be a touchstone for whether Gambia can indeed move forward toward the goals of freedom and openness that Deyda so passionately fought for, and which most Gambians still hold dear.”

The impunity surrounding the Hydara case is emblematic of the dire state of freedom of the media in Gambia, where President Jammeh has ruled for 17 years. He was elected to another five year term last month.

In June 2008, the ECOWAS court found the Gambian government responsible for the disappearance of Ebrima Manneh, a journalist with the Daily Observer who has been missing since July 2006. Last December, the court found the government responsible for the torture of Musa Saidykhan, a former chief editor of The Independent newspaper, also in 2006.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has repeatedly raised concerns regarding “the alleged murder, unlawful arrest and detention, harassment, intimidation, prosecutions, and disappearances of journalists and human rights defenders” in Gambia.

IFJ-Africa, the IFJ’s chapter for the African continent, is a separate legal entity based and registered in Dakar, Senegal.