Suspect detained in connection with murder of veteran journalist

New York, February 23, 2005—Gambian authorities yesterday arrested a Lebanese businessman in connection with the murder of veteran journalist Deyda Hydara, according to local press reports.

Wally Mahmoud Hakim was detained after officials found arms in his house, and he remained in custody today. Authorities gave no details about whether they had specifically linked any of the guns with the killing.

While local journalists cautiously welcomed the arrest, they have urged officials to investigate the “Green Boys,” a pro-government group that has issued numerous threats to independent journalists who report critically on ruling authorities, as Hydara did.

Hydara, managing editor and co-owner of the independent newspaper The Point, was killed in a drive-by shooting from a vehicle with no license plate on the night of December 16, 2004, while driving colleagues home. Hydara was also a correspondent for Agence France-Presse and Reporters without Borders.

The shooting occurred two days after the Gambian National Assembly passed two pieces of repressive media legislation that Hydara, along with other local independent journalists, had strongly opposed.

Last week, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) took over the investigation into the murder.

NIA Director-General Daba Marenah told the press that a cache of guns and ammunition had been found at Hakim’s house, according to a report in the pro-government Daily Observer, but also said the guns were licensed. The suspect admitted to having “exchanged words” with Hydara but said he did not shoot him.

Local journalists said Hakim was a government supporter who had quarreled bitterly with Hydara over his critical reporting. However, they doubt that this would have led him to kill the journalist and believe that the Green Boys, who have issued violent threats to journalists before, may be the more likely culprits.

In July 2004, the group sent an e-mail to the BBC about the “negative” reporting of its Gambia correspondent, Ebrima Sillah, whose house was set on fire by unknown assailants a few weeks later. No one has been prosecuted for this or the two other arson attacks on independent media in the Gambia in the last 18 months.

Local sources say the Green Boys are linked to the ruling APRC party of President Yahya Jammeh, and that some were sent to Libya to receive arms training.