With all due respect to the Hydara family and as painful as it sounds, the killing of Deyda was not about Deyda Hydara. Deyda was killed because of what he represented which was what Yaya Jammeh wanted to extinguish. Deyda stood up to uphold the sovereignty and freedoms and power of Gambians to be able to subject their Government to the will of the people. But Yaya Jammeh never wanted Gambians to enjoy their sovereignty hence he killed Deyda! But Deyda Lives On… As citizens our sovereignty has been established and guaranteed in Section 1 subsection 2 of the 1997 Constitution. It says the sovereignty of the Gambia resides in the people of the Gambia and it’s from the people that the government derives its legitimacy and the government functions on behalf of the people to serve the people.
Furthermore Chapter 4, entitled ‘Fundamental Rights and Freedoms’ is where our rights as Gambians have been entrenched. While all human rights are equally important, yet freedom of expression is the lifeblood that animates all other rights. It is when citizens have the liberty, space and freedom to express their opinions without fear it means they can question leaders and expose corruption and abuse. Without free speech, the enlightenment and empowerment of citizens will be limited hence their informed participation in national affairs will be severely stifled.
Still further, the 1997 Constitution stated in Section 207 that the responsibility of the media is to hold the Gambia Government accountable on behalf of the people. The media fulfills this duty by serving as a conduit through which people express themselves, i.e. to agree or disagree with the manner, decisions, actions and policies of the Government.
The significance of the media therefore is that they amplify the voices of citizens as they raise issues and concerns about their society and Government. This is the only peaceful way in which citizens check their government and ensure good governance and protection of human rights. This is precisely the reason why each and every dictator has a tendency to clampdown on the media as a means to limit or control the exchange of opinions hence close voices of citizens and groups.
When you close the voices of citizens then you will succeed in controlling what information is shared and received by people hence the only source of information will be that of Government alone. By closing the voices of citizens and determining what people should read or hear and know it means therefore limiting the ability of the people to exercise their sovereignty. Hence dictatorship is nothing other than the hijacking of the sovereignty of citizens so that the dictator becomes a lord over the people.
As a journalist, Deyda was that agent that amplified the voices of the people. As a journalist, he was fulfilling the constitutional role assigned to the media to hold the Government of the Gambia accountable on behalf of the people. Because Deyda played that constitutional role quite effectively and diligently it meant that the APRC Regime and Yaya Jammeh felt his impact as their corruption, misrule and ineptitude were being exposed. Consequently Deyda became an inconvenient nuisance that had to be eliminated. Thus Deyda was an agent and a manifestation of our sovereignty. By killing him, the objective was to seize the sovereignty of Gambians.
As we mark the 13th anniversary of the killing of this Giant of Sovereignty, Gambians must therefore not only look at the past but also into the future. Citizens must be extremely interested in the way and manner that present and future governments of the Gambia address the issue of freedom of expression. We must stand against any attempts to limit free speech and freedom of the media in any way. Let us bear in mind that any limitation to speech and media tantamount to limitation of our sovereignty.
There are democratic restrictions to free speech and free press in every civilized society because it is recognized that these rights are not absolute. However citizens must refuse any attempts by the Government to take these democratic restrictions to another level, which will lead to denial. Our tribute to Deyda must therefore be to ensure that the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the media remain unfettered in this country.
On this note, Gambians must therefore demand Pres. Adama Barrow and the Parliament to repeal all laws that infringe on freedom of expression and freedom of the media. These include seditious laws in the Criminal Code including the offense of ‘false news’ as well as ‘giving false information to a public officer’ and other insult laws. Similarly the Information and Communications Act needs amendment to remove offenses related to free speech on the Internet.
Furthermore the Newspaper Act must be repealed so that all Gambians have the right to establish media outlets without having to undergo any cumbersome registration process and payment of huge sums of money with unreasonable collaterals. To further guarantee our sovereignty, all media offenses must be decriminalized so that the media could become a true amplifier of citizens’ voices hence ensure the supremacy of the people. When we criminalize media offenses it means we ultimately close voices and limit the participation of citizens on national issues.
In paying tribute to Deyda Hydara and other victims of freedom of expression and media, the Gambia Government should have used the occasion of this anniversary to repeal or reform all anti-free media laws. Above all, let Gambians stand up and remain vigilant to ensure the sanctity of freedom of expression and freedom of the media.
This is because free speech and free media are indispensable weapons in the hands of the people to defend their sovereignty, check government, protect rights and ensure efficient delivery of social services. Free speech and free media are peaceful weapons against corruption, abuse of power, rights violations and political patronage and mediocrity in society.
For the Gambia, Our Homeland!