Murder story may have sparked interrogation

New York, October 27, 2005—The editor of The Independent newspaper was detained today and interrogated for several hours by Gambian state intelligence agents, who instructed him to return for more questioning on Friday. Local journalists said they believe Musa Saidykhan is being harassed in connection with a recent article on the unsolved December 2004 murder of prominent Gambian editor Deyda Hydara.

Saidykhan was summoned this morning to the offices of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), but declined to go because authorities provided no reason, according to CPJ sources. Several agents came to the offices of the Banjul newspaper around 2.30 p.m. local time and took him to the NIA headquarters. An NIA officer told the Committee to Protect Journalists that it was “routine questioning,” but he would not elaborate.

Local journalists believe Saidykhan was detained in connection with an article that said South African President Thabo Mbeki had promised to raise the issue of Hydara’s unsolved murder with Gambian authorities. The article, titled “African Editors Remember Deyda” appeared in The Independent on October 24 and was republished this week in The Point, the newspaper Hydara co-founded and edited. It described Saidykhan’s recent visit to the African Editors Forum (TAEF) in Johannesburg, where he discussed the Hydara case with Mbeki.

Hydara’s murder prompted an international outcry. The investigation was initially assigned to the Gambian police, before being taken over by the NIA in February. In June, the government released to the press a “confidential” NIA report on the murder, which was widely seen as an attempt to smear Hydara’s reputation. Since then, Gambian authorities have remained silent on the murder inquiry, and have failed to respond to calls for an independent investigation.

The Gambian government has also failed to solve a series of arson attacks on private media, including two on The Independent in 2003 and 2004. Journalists in the Gambia face repressive legislation as well as frequent harassment and threats. On Saturday, authorities shut down the Gambian branch of Senegalese private radio station Sud FM, accusing it of “inciting trouble” between the Gambia and Senegal.

“We’re very concerned about the apparent harassment of a journalist who is properly drawing attention to the problem of impunity in the Gambia,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Gambian authorities should stop harassing Musa Saidykhan and instead devote their attention to solving these crimes.”