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Gambia: Defending Press Freedom
Jun 27, 2006 (060627)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
The Gambian government has blocked a non-governmental forum of
freedom of expression scheduled to take place in Banjul on June 19
and 30, prior to the African Union summit in the Gambian capital.
But media freedom groups will still be focusing on threats to free
expression in Gambia and demanding an investigation of the murder
of Gambian journalist Deyda Heydara, which took place 18 months
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a press release from the Media
Foundation for West Africa, additional statements from Reporters
Without Borders, and a background article from the UN's Integrated
Regional Information Networks.
For additional links on Gambia, visit
For current news and commentary on Gambia, see
http://allafrica.com/gambia and http://allgambian.net.
For reports on civil society activities around the African Union
summit, visit http://www.pambazuka.org/aumonitor.
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Free Expression and Journalist Organisations Prevented from Holding
Forum on Freedom of Expression
Media Foundation for West Africa (Accra)
June 23, 2006
The Coordinating Committee set up by the Government of The Gambia
to oversee the African Union (AU) Summit has barred civil society
organizations on the continent from holding a forum on freedom of
expression in the country. The forum was scheduled to take place
in Banjul, the capital, on June 29 and 30, prior to the Summit.
In a letter sent on June 19, 2006 to "The Association of
Non-Governmental Organisations" (TANGO) and copied to the Kombo
Beach Hotel, which had been booked as venue for the Forum, the
General Coordinator of the Summit, Mr. Bolong Sonko, who is also a
former Minister of Foreign Affairs of The Gambia, told the hotel
management to suspend the freedom of expression forum until
government approves it. The Gambian government therefore
effectively stopped the NGOs from holding the forum.
We view the Gambian government's action is a declaration of its
hostility to human rights. It is also a violation of the
Constitutive Act of the African Union. It is unacceptable for the
Gambian authorities to attempt to subject an NGO forum,
particularly one aimed at discussing an issue as fundamental as the
right to freedom of expression, to governmental approval.
The freedom expression forum was singled out for obstruction by the
Gambian authorities. Other civil society meetings focused on less
"sensitive" issues have been given the green light to proceed.
This action indicates clearly that the "topic" of the forum which
is "Freedom of Expression in Africa" poses a major threat to the
Gambian government whose preoccupation appears to be how to polish
up its image with the African Union Summit. It is a clear
testimony that President Yahya Jammeh's government is afraid of the
possibility of NGOs using the AU Summit to criticise his regime's
widespread violations of human rights.
In recent months, since the government announced the foiling of an
alleged attempted coup d'état, President Jammeh's much-dreaded
security agents have arrested scores of Gambian citizens, including
journalists, lawyers, members of his own government and army, and
even the speaker of the Gambian Parliament.
The state of fear imposed on the people of Gambia is such that
citizens are afraid to have any conversation whatsoever about
public affairs. The regime has closed down several newspapers and
radio stations, and has frightened and gagged most of the
newspapers not yet closed down.
It is for this reason that the Network of African Freedom
Expression Organisations (NAFEO) has declared President Jammeh's
government "the most violent violator of press freedom in West
Africa" today, and the Gambia one of the six "hotspots" of freedom
of expression violations in Africa.
The African Union offers a new framework for good governance,
respect for human rights and the rule of law. It is therefore
unacceptable and intolerable that despite being the host of the
African Union Summit, the Gambia government persists in silencing
free speech and trampling on the basic rights of Gambians.
Accordingly, the signatories to this Statement hereby:
- denounce and protest the Gambian government's high-handed
action and violent repression of human rights in the Gambia;
- call on the leaders of democratic governments attending the
Banjul Summit to reject the Gambia government's action against the
planned freedom of expression forum;
- demand that the AU makes it obligatory on any host
government to permit civil society organisations to organise their
forums during all AU-authorised events, including summits;
- demand from leaders of democratic governments attending the
Banjul Summit to condemn the widespread and unending violent
attacks on human rights in the Gambia.
- further call on the Heads of State and Governments of the
AU to take urgent steps to ensure that the Gambian government
respects its obligations under international human rights law.
The Freedom of Expression forum was planned ahead of the African
Union Summit by ARTICLE 19, in partnership with the Gambia Press
Union (GPU), Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), Media
Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), The All Africa Editors Forum
(TAEF), Panos Institute for West Africa (PIWA), The Inter African
Network for Women, Media, Gender Equity and Development (FAMEDEV),
the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)-Africa Office,
the West African Journalist Association (WAJA), Highway Africa
Conference, SAB Miller Chair of Media and Democracy and Media
Rights Agenda (MRA) and other member organizations of the Network
of African Freedom of Expression Organisations (NAFEO).
The aim of the Forum is to provide in-depth knowledge of the
Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa and
other African Union mechanisms, including the African Peer Review
Mechanism. The Forum will focus on how these mechanisms can be
utilised at the national and regional levels to strengthen freedom
of expression. It will also address key freedom of expression
challenges and highlight the threats in many parts of the
continent. The Forum will also seek to reinforce the work of
existing freedom of expression and journalists networks in Africa
and to encourage them to utilise the mechanisms of the African
Regional Human Rights System.
"Justice for Deyda Hydara" radio spot launched in run-up to African
Union summit in Banjul
June 16, 2006
Reporters Without Borders
Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and press
freedom throughout the world. It has nine national sections
(Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden
and Switzerland). It has representatives in Abidjan, Bangkok,
London, Moscow, New York, Tokyo and Washington. And it has more
than 120 correspondents worldwide.
Reporters Without Borders appealed today to radio stations
broadcasting in Africa to regularly transmit a short radio spot
about the murder of journalist Deyda Hydara from now until the end
of a two-day African Union summit in Banjul on 2 July.
The Gambia correspondent of Reporters Without Borders and Agence
France-Presse and co-editor of the tri-weekly The Point, Hydara was
gunned down in Banjul exactly 18 months ago, on 16 December 2004.
Less than 30 seconds long, the spot was prepared by Reporters
Without Borders and Hydara's son, Baba Hydara.
"My father was one of the Gambia's greatest journalists," Baba says
in the spot. "He was killed just a hundred yards from a police
barracks a year and a half ago. Since then, the government has done
nothing to identify his murderers. Justice for Deyda Hydara!"
The spot concludes with this comment by Reporters Without Borders:
"As the African Union holds a summit in Banjul, Reporters Without
Borders points out that the Gambia is one of the most hostile
countries in Africa for journalists."
The spot can be downloaded in MP3 format in both English and French
from the Reporters Without Borders website (http://www.rsf.org).
In June 2005, Reporters Without Borders appealed to radios
broadcasting in Africa to point out that the only thing the Gambian
government had done in the six months since Hydara's murder was to
try to discredit him.
Reporters Without Borders today also hailed the courageous position
on Hydara's murder taken in the US Congress by Representative Adam
Schiff (Democrat, California's 29th district). Schiff said: "Mr.
Speaker, I rise today to mark the 18-month anniversary of a tragic
event that is symptomatic of the deterioration of press freedom in
the Gambia and elsewhere."
He added: "Resistance to impunity is essential to maintain civil
peace and demonstrate a commitment to democratic values. In a time
when repeated anonymous attacks against media professionals have
created tense relations between the state and the media in many
countries, Deyda Hydara's unrequited murder is deeply worrisome to
those who are committed to democracy and justice in Africa. I hope
that the Gambian Government will take this occasion to reverse its
record on press freedom and set an example for the rest of the
Schiff will also write to Gambian President Yahya Jammeh expressing
support for the call by Reporters Without Borders and the Gambia
Press Union (the country's main journalists' association) for the
creation of an independent commission to investigate Hydara's
The letter says: "As the Gambia prepares to host the Summit of the
Chiefs of State of the African Union (AU) in July and hold an
important presidential election in September, I urge you to
reaffirm your government's commitment to human rights and press
Gambia: Justice demanded for slain journalist ahead of AU summit
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
June 22, 2006
[This material from IRIN, a UN humanitarian news and information
service, may not necessarily reflect the views of the United
Nations or its agencies.]
Dakar, 22 Jun 2006 (IRIN) - When the African Union (AU) meets for
its annual summit in the Gambian capital Banjul next week, local
journalists will not only report on events they will also recall
Specifically, they want to remind summit participants of the
murder of prominent Gambian journalist Deyda Hydara 18 months
The Gambia Press Union is urging the summit to press the Gambian
government to allow a private investigation from abroad into the
murder. Hydara was shot dead in his car about 15 minutes after
leaving the offices of the The Point newspaper on the evening of
16 December 2004.
"We're still not satisfied with the investigation on the cause of
his death," said Madi Ceesay, president of the press union in
Banjul. "The report published by the government was not
acceptable. It did not address the issue of who killed him.
Either the government does not have the manpower or the
capabilities. If they allow outsiders in it may help."
Respect for press freedom is a civil liberty that is taken into
account when Western donors evaluate a country's eligibility for
development funding. Last week, the Washington, D.C.-based
Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) suspended The Gambia's
eligibility to participate in its programme for failing to adhere
to the organization's standards, including respecting press
freedom. The MCC, which is a US government body, provides funding
to reduce poverty through economic growth.
In a speech earlier this year, Gambian Secretary of State for
Justice Sheikh Tijan Hydara said the government's investigation
into Hydara's death was ongoing.
Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF or Reporters Without
Borders) says Hydara's murder is just one example of press
repression in The Gambia.
"We are very concerned about what is going on there," said
Leonard Vincent, Africa desk officer with RSF. "We have
systematic arbitrary arrests, torture and detention, illegal
closing of media offices, a climate of terror on the independent
RSF has launched a radio spot available to African radio stations
about the Hydara murder in the run-up to the AU summit. The spot,
which features commentary by Hydara's son, Baba, aims to trigger
action to find Hydara's killers and to generally raise awareness
about press freedom in The Gambia.
Vincent said Hydara, 58, had received numerous threats before he
was slain. Hydara was a correspondent for RSF for 10 years. He
also worked as a correspondent for Agence France-Press in
addition to being an editor at The Point. He was an outspoken
critic of press repression under the government of President
The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) said on Monday that a
stringer for the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) in The Gambia
was arrested on 30 May. Omar Bah, news editor of the privately
owned Daily Observer has been missing since 12 June, MFWA said.
Several other journalists have been detained this year. Other
press freedom violations in recent years include threats,
harassment, shuttering newspapers, burning printing presses and
setting fire to a BBC journalist's house.
While many African countries are improving press freedom, Vincent
said, The Gambia is slipping backward.
"It's a real contrast between Benin, for example, and The Gambia.
You have the best and the worst," Vincent said. "You have
situations that are really improving, like Mauritania or Mali,
even Cameroon. We have more and more countries every year
improving the situation. But we have very dark spots."
He cited The Gambia, Eritrea and Zimbabwe as among the worst
violators of press freedom. The Democratic Republic of Congo and
Cote d'Ivoire, Vincent said, have an independent press but the
media tends to play dangerous politics with that freedom by
"acting as propaganda activists for politicians." Ethnic tension
has helped triggered conflict in both Cote d'Ivoire and Congo.
"President Yahya Jammeh's intolerance of dissent has plummeted to
new depths, with incommunicado detentions and widespread
intimidation of independent voices," said Ann Cooper, executive
director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists,
in a statement in June.
CPJ urged the AU summit to denounce the deterioration of press
freedom in The Gambia and to consider moving the summit
"Each passing day just adds to the outcry," one year after Deyda
Reporters Without Borders
December 12, 2005
Reporters Without Borders issued a new appeal to President Yahya
Jammeh today, on the eve of the first anniversary of journalist
Deyda Hydara's murder on 16 December 2004, urging him to
acknowledge the inability of the Gambian investigators to solve the
case and asking him to request the help of a neutral foreign police
In a speech read on behalf of Reporters Without Borders by Gambia
Press Union coordinator Demba Ali Jawo today in Banjul, the
organisation reiterated its call to the Gambian government "to face
the facts and equip itself to solve this terrible mystery by
requesting help from the Americans, Europeans, South Africa, the UN
or any other neutral country or body."
Léonard Vincent, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa
desk, should have delivered the speech personally at a Gambia Press
Union news conference on press freedom but he was prevented from
travelling to Banjul because the Gambian authorities did not issue
him a visa in time.
What do we know today, one year after Deyda's murder? That his
killers are cowards and that they are still at large. That the
person who pulled the trigger has no reason to be concerned about
his future, as things stand right now, any more than the person who
gave the order to do it. That Deyda's family has to live with this.
That his widow, daughters and sons courageously confront a smear
campaign by perverse investigators. And that his fellow journalists
are not only threatened by an aggressive president but also by one
of the worst sets of laws in Africa. But as each day passes we get
stronger, because each day that passes just adds to the outcry.
For all these reasons, I am sad to be unable to be with you today.
I am also angry at being unable to go with you to the scene of the
murder on Sankung Sillah Street and transmit to you there a message
from Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard that
we have not forgotten you and that we are your allies. Deyda, who
had worked for our organisation since 1994, was an energetic man
who knew his rights. In The Point, he held up a mirror to the
Gambian people. In Agence France-Presse, he was Gambia's spokesman
for the entire world's press. He knew how to talk to us, at times
to shake us. He knew how to share with us his concerns, his anger
and his enthusiasm. No one answered his phone on the morning of 17
December 2004. Someone had decided to silence him for ever. Tears
were shed in Paris, as in Banjul and elsewhere in the world.
No one whatsoever has been accused of being the murderer. We do not
know the identity of the gunmen in the Mercedes taxis with no
licence plates. We do not know who their boss was. Our anger is on
a par with our uncertainty and for this very human reason we demand
to know the truth.
After this stifling year of tension, mistrust and fear, things must
be clear. If Reporters Without Borders cannot be with you today in
Banjul, if I cannot myself read my speech to you, it is because
President Yahya Jammeh now sees Reporters Without Borders as an
enemy or at the very least as a troublemaker. But what do we want?
We just want justice to be done. How? By discovering the truth.
This goal is simple. There is nothing subversive about it. It
should be shared by all those who cannot stand injustice, whether
they are presidents, ministers, journalists, ordinary citizens or
human rights activists. Indeed, I would like to say something to
the Gambian government: "Help us. Deyda's family and friends need
you. Promises given with your hand over your heart are not enough.
We now need action."
But we have to be realistic. The investigation is going nowhere. I
will not dwell on the "confidential report" which the NIA published
in June. Let us just say that the investigators are not doing
anything serious. Anyway, those who have something to say refuse to
talk to them because they do not trust them. And without doubt,
others also would have things to say but they are not being
There is no denying the fact that Gambia has been reeling since
Deyda's death. The country has been badly hurt. The trust between
press and government that is essential to keep a democracy alive is
broken. As Pap Saine told me one day, Deyda's murderers have an
immense debt to pay Gambia. The authorities cannot go on ignoring
the legitimate appeals of one of the country's most respected
families. Deyda's family and friends are demanding justice, but it
is not just for them, it is also for the good of their country.
Reporters Without Borders would like to send a special greeting to
all those friends of Deyda present here today who are not Gambians.
Your help is essential, not just to show our Gambian friends that
we share in their suffering. You are here today in Banjul to prove
that the three shots that were fired at Deyda's car on the night of
16 December 2004 in Kanifing have echoed throughout the continent.
This horrible murder is not just a matter for Gambians. It has sent
a terrifying signal to all African journalists that they could also
be gunned down if they do their job too well.
Let us continue to loudly proclaim Deyda's name in Ghana, Mali,
Senegal, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Sierra Leone
and elsewhere. Let us continue to say that we will no longer
tolerate this kind of threat to leading African journalists such as
Norbert Zongo, Carlos Cardoso and Deyda in the past, and others
today. Let us continue to demand that the Gambian government should
face the facts and equip itself to solve this terrible mystery by
requesting help from the Americans, Europeans, South Africa, the UN
or any other neutral country or body. The resources of Reporters
Without Borders are also at the Gambian government's full disposal.
I would like to end my appeal by addressing President Jammeh
directly. "Mr. President, a French philosopher recently wrote
something you will have to agree with. He said: 'It is not because
things are the way they are that we have to be resigned. It is
because we are resigned that things are they way they are.' As
Deyda might have said, I leave you to think about that. Good
thinking, Mr. President."
AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication
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