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TRIBUTE: Deyda: Fifteen years on, and still waiting for justice

Dec 16, 2019, 1:54 PM | Article By: D. A. Jawo

It is fifteen years on, and we are still waiting for a definitive closure to the assassination of veteran Gambian journalist Deyda Hydara.  While we now have a fairly good idea as to who were responsible for his death, and the motives for his killing, but we are still waiting for justice for his family and friends.

Deyda Hydara, who was co-proprietor and Managing Editor of The Point newspaper was gunned down on 16th December 2004, on the 13th anniversary of the newspaper, which he founded with his two childhood friends; Pap Saine and Baboucarr Gaye. It happened late in the evening on Sankung Sillah Road in the Kanifing Industrial Estate, not far from the Police Intervention Unit (PIU) headquarters on Mamadi Maniyang Highway while he was dropping two of his staff, Nyangsara Jobe and Ida Jagne. 

While at the time everyone suspected that the regime of ex-President Yahya Jammeh had a hand in the assassination, but hardly anyone knew why a harmless person like Deyda could be the target of such a cold-blooded murder. However, even the behavior and comportment of ex-President Jammeh and some senior members of his regime with regards to the case, were clear indications that the regime had something to hide. We can all recall from the very onset, the attitude of the regime towards the case was quite bizarre. Not only was the family not invited to the postmortem examination, but the autopsy report was also never made available to them, even when they requested for it. Up to this very day, neither the family nor the Gambia Press Union (GPU), who are an interested party, knew what has happened to the autopsy report or even the bullets that were removed from his body. Therefore, something was always definitely quite fishy with the attitude of the Jammeh regime towards Deyda’s assassination.

Instead of putting in all necessary efforts to investigate the killing as was expected, the regime continued to demonstrate its complete indifference to the case. In fact every time President Jammeh commented on the case, he made some ambiguous remarks which tended to confuse rather than clarify his government’s stand point on the issue. A case in point was an interview he had with the BBC in November 2011 in which he compared Deyda’s brutal murder to the deaths of other Gambians in road accidents, asking why anyone should be concerned about Deyda’s death more than those Gambians who had died in other circumstances, thus further dashing any hopes that his government had any intentions of investigating the murder.

We can also recall the only official report that was ever released on the case, dubbed ‘Confidential Report’ that was issued by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) in June 2005, instead of displaying any seriousness in investigating the case, they chose to subject Deyda’s personal character to all sorts of disparaging comments, even to the extent of blaming his death on his ‘wayward behaviour’. And since then, the regime showed no interest in the case.

It can also be recalled that during events commemorating the first anniversary of his death when the GPU and its invited guests from the sub-region and abroad attempted to visit the site where he was killed, they were met by a large contingent of heavily armed para-military forces who said they were given instructions not to allow anyone on the site. That of course was yet another clear indication that the authorities had something to hide.

Therefore, the confessions at the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) by some members of ex-President Jammeh’s killer squad, the Junglers, that they participated in his assassination, did not come as a big surprise to many people. It was merely a confirmation to what many had always suspected. Even the claim that they were acting on the orders of ex-President Jammeh, was not a surprise. What was however not quite obvious was the reason why anyone would target Deyda for elimination. Anyone who intimately knew him, must have known that he was an advocate for peace and social cohesion. Even in his journalism work, Deyda was always calling for peaceful co-existence among people of all races and creeds. Therefore, it is hard to see how ex-President Jammeh or anyone else would want to get him eliminated.

Of course, anyone familiar with Deyda’s style of writing would know that he did not pull any punches when it came to hold the government to account, which should have been the role of any good journalist of his caliber. However, he had never advocated for any violent overthrow of the regime to warrant harming him.

There is no doubt that not only his family and friends, but many other people were not only surprised but also disappointed when the Attorney General ordered the release from custody of his confessed killers pending the report of the TRRC. Nonetheless however, everyone is anxiously looking forward to the TRRC report and recommendations on what should happen to his confessed killers and ex-President Jammeh who allegedly gave the order.

While the government should be commended for accepting to pay Deyda’s family the amount that was imposed by the Ecowas Community Court which the Jammeh regime refused to honour, there is however still a need for the government to engage the family, at least to help them deal with their emotional needs.

Another missing aspect in the recent handling of the case was the apparent failure of the doctor who conducted the postmortem examination and the authorities at the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital (EFSTH) to testify at the TRRC, at least to shed light on the obvious cover-ups that had no doubt taken place at every level.