April 12, 2024

Press Freedom


Gambia January 31, 2005

H.E. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh
State House
Republic of the Gambia
Fax: (011.220) 22-70-34

Your Excellency:

We write to join the voice of the Overseas Press Club of America to all those protesting the murder of Deyda Hydara, another outrage in the recent epidemic of abuses of press freedom in Gambia.

As you know, Hydara was shot three times in the head on December 16, 2004, as he left his office in Banjul. He was managing editor and owner of the independent weekly, The Point, and was also the local correspondent for both Agence France-Presse and the watch-dog journalist organization, Reporters Without Borders. Hydara, 58, was a dedicated and highly respected journalist in Gambia. His killers have silenced an important voice. Shortly before his murder, the Gambian Parliament had passed two highly repressive laws providing prison sentences for press offenses and quintupling the license fees for newspapers.

In its own investigation of the murder, Reporters Without Borders reports that Hydara was killed, and two of his co-workers were wounded, “by well-organized professionals in a pre-meditated operation” that resembled several other outrages against the free press in the past two years. The killers were said to use cars without license plates.

This brutality follows a series of threats against journalists and several arson attacks on the media in your country:

> Last August, we wrote you protesting such an attack on Ebrima Sillah, a prominent Gambian journalist and a correspondent for the British Broadcasting Corporation.

> In April, 2004, a group of men invaded the presses of the bi-weekly, Independent. Shots were fired, and equipment was doused with gasoline and burned.

> In October, 2003, the Independent‘s editorial office in Banjul was also set afire by unidentified men. To our knowledge, no one has been charged in any of these attacks.

> And on December 30, 2004, your police in Serre Kunda detained Sam Obi, a Nigerian journalist who presents for the privately-owned, City Limits radio station, for six hours of questioning after he was interviewed by Radio France International about a march organized by the Gambia Press Union to protest Hydara’s murder.

Your Excellency, all of these cases stand as an indictment of Gambia in the court of world opinion. Censorship of any kind is a violation of Article 19 of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says simply that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Among other things, this means that no country has the right to license its media or its journalists; anyone who chooses to be a journalist may do so.

We urge you to stand up for fundamental democratic freedoms and do all in your power to see that the enemies of free expression are found and brought to justice, beginning with the killers of Deyda Hydara.

Respectfully yours,
Larry Martz Norman A. Schorr
Co-chairmen, Freedom of the Press Committee

Lena Manga Sagnia Seck
Charge d’Affaires
Embassy of the Republic of Gambia
1155 Fifteenth Street, NW (Suite 1000)
Washington, DC 20005
Fax: (202) 785-1430

Ambassador Crispin Grey-Johnson
Permanent Representative
Permanent Mission of the Republic of Gambia
to the United Nations
800 Second Avenue, Suite 400-F
New York, NY 10017
Fax: (212) 856-9820

Jackson McDonald
U.S. Ambassador to Gambia
Embassy of the United States of America
P.M.B. No. 19
Fax: (011.220) 39-24-75

Hon. John O. Kakonge
United Nations House
P.O.Box 553
Fax: (011.220) 49-47-58

Ms. Lawanda Kamara
Celebrate Africa Foundation
44 East 32nd Street
New York, NY 10016
Fax: (973) 675-5704