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 in the head and chest by unidentified assailants while he drove home from his office in the capital, Banjul, late at night. Two other staff members of The Point, Ida Jagne-Joof and Nyang Jobe, were in the car with Hydara and were wounded in the attack.
Hydara’s 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 laws imposed lengthy jail terms for reporters convicted of defamation or sedition.
Hydara also wrote two columns for The Point that frequently criticized the government, according to local journalists.
In July 2019, an army officer said he was among a group of men who murdered the journalist on the direct orders of then-President Yahya Jammeh, AFP reported. The officer was providing testimony before Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission, a body set up to investigate alleged abuses under Jammeh’s 22-year year rule. Its mission is to document abuses and grant reparations to victims, the BBC reported.
In the years before the killing in 2004, Gambian journalists and media outlets were targeted in successive arson attacks, including an incident in August that year, 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 prior two years, unidentified assailants twice set fire to property belonging to the privately owned Banjul-based Independent, known for its critical stance toward the Jammeh government. These attacks resembled an August 2000 arson attack on the offices of the independent Banjul-based station Radio 1 FM.
On June 10, 2014, a panel of three justices in the Nigeria-based Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice ruled that Gambia’s then National Intelligence Agency, which was tasked with investigating Hydara’s murder, did not carry out a proper investigation and cited the agency’s failure to carry out ballistic tests on the bullets and weapons recovered from suspects. The court said the NIA was "not an impartial body to conduct the investigation" but added that there was no evidence linking the Gambian government to the murder.
The court awarded US$50,000 to Hydara’s family as compensation for the government’s failure to investigate the murder and US$10,000 for legal costs. The ruling was the first ECOWAS case relating to the murder of a Gambian journalist. In June 2018, the new government under President Adama Barrow began paying compensation to Hydara’s family, according to media reports and a statement by the Media Foundation for West Africa.
On July 22, 2019, Lieutenant Malick Jatta told Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission that he carried out the shooting with at least two others, and that during the operation his commander was on the phone with Jammeh.
In testimony, which was broadcast on the local Kerr Fatou Network, Jatta said he, Captain Tumbul Tamba, and two others named Alieu Jen and Sana Manjang collected a car from Jammeh’s property in the town of Kanifing on the day of the shooting.
“Tamba was speaking to Jammeh by phone," said Jatta. "He was saying to him, ‘Yes Sir, Your Excellency,’ according to reports of the testimony and CPJ’s review of the Kerr Fatou Network broadcast.
"We met a car and Tamba, who was driving, said, ‘This is the idiot’[Hydara] and he ordered us to shoot. I shot at him…My colleagues Alieu Jeng and Sana Manjang also fired,” Jatta told the commission.
He said he was paid 50,000 dalasai (US$1,000) and only learned the following day that the target had been Hydara, according CPJ’s review of the testimony.
In 2017, a court in Banjul issued arrest warrants for Manjang and another suspect named Colonel Kawsu Camara, alias Bombardier, both of whom had left Gambia, Reuters repor. In its report of the 2019 testimony, Reuters said that Tamba died several years ago and it had not been able to determine the whereabouts of Jeng or Manjang.
After losing power, Jammeh went into exile in Equatorial Guinea. CPJ was unable to find contact details for him. Members of his political party have denied the claims against him, Reuters reported.