The Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ, has welcomed the ruling of the Nigeria-based Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS Court of Justice, which faulted the Gambian government for failing to conduct a meaningful investigation into the murder of a leading newspaper editor, Deyda Hydara, who was killed in unexplained circumstances ten years ago.
Hydara, the founder of the independent newspaper, The Point, was shot dead by unidentified assailants as he drove home from his office in the capital, Banjul, on December 16, 2004.
Prior to the attack, he had been a regular critic of President Yahya Jammeh’s harsh policies and had received multiple death threats in the months leading up to his death.
It is not the first time the government is being accused of murder.
In June 2008, the ECOWAS Court found the Gambian authorities responsible for the disappearance of Ebrima Manneh, another journalist with the Daily Observer who has been missing since July 2006.
Also, in December 2010, the court found the government responsible for the 2006 torture of Musa Saidykhan, a former chief editor at The Independent newspaper.
A panel of three justices declared last Wednesday that Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency, NIA, tasked with investigating Hydara’s murder, did not carry out a proper investigation and cited its failure to carry out ballistic tests on the bullets and weapons recovered from suspects.
“The ECOWAS court underscored the responsibility of governments to protect journalists and provide an environment in which the press can operate safely,” said CPJ West Africa correspondent, Peter Nkanga.
Nkanga said it was imperative that the international community ensures the Gambia complies with the court as a first step toward combating the climate of impunity.
The court awarded US$50,000 to Hydara’s family as compensation for the government’s failure to effectively investigate the murder, and US$10,000 for legal costs.
Deyda Hydara, Jr., son of the late journalist who was only 14 years old at the time of his father’s murder, welcomed the ruling saying, “After a long and difficult journey that began in 2008, I am delighted that we have finally attained justice before this court…we will now wait and see if they will take appropriate action.”
However, the law firm Aluko & Oyebode, which brought the lawsuit to the court with support from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa on behalf of Hydara’s famithat is not satisfied, noting that although the court’s ruling is final with no mechanism to appeal, the Gambia, which is part of the 15-member ECOWAS regional bloc, faces no sanctions for failure to comply.
Chidi Odinkalu, who heads the work of the Open Society Justice Initiative in Africa, said the court ruling marks a major step forward for the rule of law and free expression in West Africa and beyond.
“It confirms that there is a well established pattern of persecution of journalists and free expression in The Gambia. We fully expect the authorities in The Gambia to take concrete steps to lift this chilling siege of freedom of expression and the human rights of journalists,” Odinkalu added.