Veteran journalist shot dead

New York, December 17, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists is shocked and saddened by last night’s assassination of Deyda Hydara, a veteran Gambian journalist and outspoken press freedom advocate.

Hydara, managing editor and co-owner of the independent newspaper The Point, as well as a correspondent for Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Reporters without Borders (RSF), was shot three times in the head by unidentified assailants while he drove home from his office in the capital, Banjul. Two other staff members of The Point who were in the car with Hydara were wounded and are currently in the hospital.

The shooting occurred two days after the Gambian National Assembly passed two contentious pieces of media legislation that Hydara, along with other local independent journalists, had strongly opposed. One of the new laws imposes lengthy jail terms for reporters convicted of defamation or sedition. Both laws await President Yahya Jammeh’s signature.

Hydara also wrote two columns for The Point that frequently criticized the government, according to local journalists.

In recent years, Gambian journalists and media outlets have been targeted in successive arson attacks, for which no one has been prosecuted. The most recent attack occurred in August, when the home of BBC correspondent Ebrima Sillah was burned down following a threatening letter sent to the BBC accusing Sillah’s reporting of being biased against President Jammeh.

In the last two years, unidentified assailants have twice set fire to property belonging to the private, Banjul-based Independent, which is known for its critical stance toward the government. These attacks resembled an August 2000 arson attack on the offices of the independent Banjul-based station Radio 1 FM.

“We mourn the loss of our colleague Deyda Hydara and call on President Jammeh to do everything in his power to ensure that Hydara’s murders are found and brought to justice,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “The Gambia is earning a reputation as a place where people can attack journalists with complete impunity. Prosecuting those responsible for this murder would send a clear message that violence against the press will not be tolerated.”