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Justice for Deyda Hydara, Chief Manneh & others, says Info Minister

May 5, 2017, 11:30 AM | Article By: Kaddijatou Jawo

The Minister of Information, Communication & Infrastructure has stated that justice must be served for Deyda Hydara, Chief Manneh, Omar Barrow and other journalists who were subjected to torture at the hands of agents of Yahya Jammeh’s regime.

Minister Jawo made this remark on Wednesday at a symposium to mark the commemoration of the World Press Freedom Day, held at the Faculty of Law, University of The Gambia.

He told journalists that his Ministry intends to pursue media law reform because some laws are not media friendly and that they will introduce laws that are in line with best practice in other parts of the world.

He stressed that truth and reconciliation is the watchword of the Government but it will happen in the absence of their colleagues like Deyda Hydara, Chief Ebrima Manneh, Omar Barrow and other journalists who have been victims of the former regime.

“I can assure you that in the process of setting up the truth and reconciliation commission there will not be any amnesty for those who bear responsibility for the atrocities committed against people,” he said.

Deyda Hydara, a prominent Gambian journalist and editor, was murdered on 16 December 2004, when driving home after having celebrated 13 years of The Point newspaper.

He had long been a critic of the government and had been warned by the authorities for taking a ‘hostile’ tone against the government in his column “Good Morning Mr President”.

The Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has delivered a stinging rebuke against the Gambian National Intelligence Agency (NIA) for having failed to properly investigate the murder of Mr Hydara. An initial investigation started by the police was taken over by the NIA on the orders of former President Yahya Jammeh.

The evidence suggested that this investigation only took 18 days, after which the NIA produced just an interim report.

In one of their final judgments before retiring from the regional bench, Justices Hansine Donli, Awa Nana Daboya, and Anthony Benin concluded that the NIA was not impartial, as they had been accused of complicity in the assassination: “one cannot investigate a crime when it is itself the accused”.

The court found, in a ruling issued on June 10, that there was a climate of impunity in The Gambia, “stifling freedom of expression”.

The ruling was a victory for Deyda Hydara’s youngest son, Deyda Hydara Jr, who brought a challenge on behalf of the family to the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice, joined by the African chapter of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ-Africa).

The process involved legal submissions on behalf of the claimants and the Government of The Gambia, as well as the live testimony of two witnesses.

Deyda Hydara’s death violated the right to life, which “imposes an obligation on states to investigate all acts of crime and bring perpetrators to book”.

While the initial police investigation was taken over by the NIA, who had issued a short interim report, “no other investigations were carried out”.

The court was particularly critical of the failure to carry out ballistic tests on the bullets recovered from the victims, and from firearms belonging to suspects, which the court considered to be “baffling”, concluding that “without a ballistic examination one could not conclude that a proper investigation had been carried out”, and that “every gun recovered from every suspect” should have been subjected to such tests.

The police had failed to promptly interview the two witnesses, who were in the car at the time of the assassination, save for a bungled attempt to visit them in hospital, for which the officers had not sought permission nor brought any identification with them.

The court could not see why the police would refuse to disclose their identity, and refuse a harmless request for an official communication, if their motive had really been to question the witnesses.

“It seems to us that these events must have scared the eyewitnesses to flee the country and it was a reasonable and wise precaution to take in the circumstances,” it was concluded.

There were accusations of state collusion in the killing. One of the witnesses told the police that some personnel from the NIA had followed her to Senegal in order to eliminate her.

For the court, this cast into doubt the impartiality of the investigation: “Justice would not seem to have been done in this case as the very body which was accused of complicity was the very one charged with the responsibility to investigate,” it was stated.

“The NIA was not an impartial body in the circumstances. The duty to conduct investigations imposed on a State involves the duty to be impartial, fair and just. One cannot be a judge in his own cause, so too one cannot investigate a crime when it is itself the accused.”

It was clear from the evidence that little had been done to find the truth. The court concluded that “since February 2005 no attempt has been made to conduct any meaningful investigations into the murder of the deceased”.

A Daily Observer reporter, Manneh, was reportedly arrested by state security after attempting to republish a BBC report criticizing President Yahya Jammeh shortly before an African Union meeting in Banjul;  his arrest was witnessed by coworkers

Though ordered to release Manneh by an Economic Community of West African States court, the Gambian government denied that Manneh was imprisoned.

According to AFP, an unnamed police source confirmed Manneh’s arrest in April 2009, but added he believed Manneh “is no longer alive”.

In June 2009, Manneh received the Special Award for Journalism under Threat from Amnesty International.

Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience and named him a 2011 “priority case”.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has also called for his release and demanded that authorities account for his disappearance.

The Committee described his arrest as part of “a climate of fear created by the unsolved murder of prominent Gambian editor Deyda Hydara, a series of unsolved arsons of media houses, and a pattern of government intimidation and prosecution of journalists”.

Omar Barrow was also a journalist who was killed during the April 11, 2000 student massacre where over 12 students were killed by agents of former president Yahya Jammeh.

It is 17 years now and their killing still remains a mystery. The victims and their families are still waiting for justice to be served.