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Deyda Hydara: Fearless Journalist Who Was Killed in Suspicious Circumstances


 

By Shola Adenekan


 

The murder of the Gambian journalist Deyda Hydara, aged 58, as he was driving away from his newspaper, the Point, comes after prolonged tension between authorities and the Gambia's independent press.

 

Just a couple of days before his death, lawmakers had approved a bill setting out jail terms for reporters found guilty of sedition or libel and stipulating that newspaper proprietors must sign a $16,600 (£8,648) bond, with their houses as guarantees, to be allowed to publish.

 

The government had also been trying to set up a media commission with the power to shut down newspapers and imprison reporters. After pressure from journalists, led by Hydara, the law was dropped on December 13.

 

President Yaya Jammeh has threatened to bury journalists "six-feet deep". Last year, when asked about journalists criticising his attempts to force them to register, he told the state radio that he believed in "giving each fool a long rope to hang themselves". Journalists, he went on should "either register or stop writing or go to hell".

 

In an open letter to the president, Hydara condemned his words as "totally repugnant and reprehensible".

 

Hydara first clashed with the authorities in 1994. Together with six other journalists he was summoned under an act not used since the days of British colonialism. Their crime had been to criticise the coup d'etat which ousted the elected president and installed the then army sergeant Jammeh, and to call for a return to civil rule.

 

After 1994, Hydara campaigned for press freedom and democracy as Jammeh brought in draconian laws against political and media opposition.

 

In 1998 Hydara called for opposition parties to be given equal general election air time and newspaper space, which got him labelled as an opposition mouthpiece. Soon after, the British-based global campaign for free expression, Article 19, accused the Gambian government of harassing opposition activists and journalists.

 

Hydara received his elementary education in Banjul before his parents moved to Senegal. There he learned French and Spanish. After a journalism degree at the University of Dakar, he returned to the Gambia to take up his first journalism job with a Banjul-based radio station. While still with the station, Hydara set up the Senegalese government-funded SeneGambia Sun in 1983, which soon folded.

 

In 1988 he moved full-time into print journalism setting up the Point with two friends. It became one of the voices against the recklessness of the country's first president, Dauda Jawara.

In 2003, he was among the group of African journalists who met in Johannesburg to seek support for a continent-wide media charter. But the only significant backing from an African leader came from South African President Thabo Mbeki.

 

Back in the Gambia, Hydara and his colleagues continued to face intimid ation. The residence of the BBC correspondent, Ebrima Sillah and the premises of the Independent newspaper, for which Hydara was a columnist, was burnt down. The BBC was also warned of biased reports against the president.

 

Since 1974 Hydara had been the local correspondent for Agence France-Press (AFP) and was one of the longest-serving correspondents of the press freedom organisation, Reporters Without Borders.

 

He is survived by Maria, his wife of 33 years, and four children.

 

Deyda Hydara, journalist and campaigner, born June 9 1946; died December 18 2004.

 

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