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ECOWAS Court Finds Gambia Failed to Investigate Death of Leading Newspaper Editor

ECOWAS Court Finds Gambia Failed to Investigate Death of Leading Newspaper Editor

NEW YORK—West Africa’s regional human rights court has delivered a strong rebuke to the government of President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia over the murder of a Deyda Hydara, a leading newspaper editor killed in unexplained circumstances ten years ago.

A ruling from the Community Court of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), delivered on June 10, found that The Gambia had failed to properly investigate the Hydara murder, and had violated its treaty obligations to the organisation by promoting a climate of impunity that stifled freedom of expression.

The case was brought before the court by Hydara’s two sons, Deyda Hydara Jr. and Ismaila Hydara, together with the African Regional Office of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ-Africa). The applicants were awarded damages of $50,000 and costs of $10,000.

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

Deyda Hydara, Jr., who was 14 at the time of his father’s killing, welcomed the ruling, saying: ““After a long and difficult journey that began in 2008, I am delighted that we have finally attained justice before this court. Gambia is being called to account for its failure to investigate the death of my father, and its failure to protect the freedom of the press that he represented; we will now wait and see if they will take appropriate action.”

Deyda Hydara was one of Gambia’s most distinguished journalists before he was shot dead in his car in 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 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.

A panel of three justices ruled that Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency, tasked with investigating Hydara’s murder, did not carry out a proper investigation and cited its failure to carry out ballistic tests on the bullets and weapons recovered from suspects. The court said the Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency was “not an impartial body to conduct the investigation”.

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

Chidi Odinkalu, who heads the work of the Open Society Justice Initiative in Africa, said:

“This ECOWAS court ruling marks a major step forward for the rule of law and free expression in West Africa and beyond. It confirms that there is a well established pattern of persecution of journalists and free expression in The Gambia. We fully expect the authorities in The Gambia to take concrete steps to lift this chilling siege of freedom of expression and the human rights of journalists.”

This ECOWAS court ruling marks a major step forward for the rule of law and free expression in West Africa and beyond. We urge authorities in the Gambia to carry out a thorough, effective investigation of the death of Deyda Hydara, in accord with the court’s decision.”

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 two decades. The court connected its latest ruling to two previous cases brought against The Gambia that involved attacks on the media.

In June 2008, the ECOWAS court found the Gambian authorities responsible for the disappearance of Ebrima Manneh, a journalist with the Daily Observer who has been missing since July 2006. In December 2010, the court found the government responsible for the torture of Musa Saidykhan, a former chief editor of The Independent newspaper, also in 2006.

Deyda Hydara Jr. also expressed the hope that the ruling would “gives strength to the beleaguered few in Gambia who are still upholding my father’s ideals, and hoping for the day when they can express themselves without fear of persecution.”

“Ultimately, this victory is not for my father, nor for me and my family, but for The Gambia and its citizens’ quest for a free society. I hope this verdict gives courage to journalists not just in The Gambia but around the world that justice can be achieved, no matter how long it takes,” he said.

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

Learn More: Media Freedom, Rule of Law, Africa, Rights & Justice

Open Society Justice Initiative

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