By Kebba Jeffang
The question of who killed Deyda Hydara continues at this year’s commemoration marking 14 years since his death but the Attorney General and Minister of Justice Aboubacarr Tambadou responded that some indications have found the locations of some suspects.
Hydara was gunned down on December 16, 2004. The killers and the issuance of the order have so far not been established. Yesterday at TANGO, dozens of journalists gathered to mark the anniversary of the former president of Gambia Press Union.
The Gambia Press Union’s Secretary General Saikou Jammeh said the killing of Deyda was a calculated one. He said the target was more than Deyda as a person but to kill the message he possessed. But according him, they failed woefully because the message wasn’t killed.
Baba Hydara, the son of Deyda said the day refreshes his mind on the very moment his father was killed. He said it created a lot of trauma in the family at the time they were told Deyda was no more.
“It took me over 13 years to wish my mother happy birthday because this very day is her birthday. It is the same day my dad was killed. It is only today I wished her a happy birthday,” he said.
Baba said they will follow the law but they will keep pushing the government to reveal the truth of the circumstances leading to his father’s shooting. He however, happily expressed that Deyda was killed on the just cause of fighting for better environment of press freedom.
The Co-Founder of The Point Newspaper Pape Saine, said Deyda was his childhood friend who he had started career with in 1970. He said he received a lot of family pressure to give up after his colleague was shot death but couldn’t, citing the then GPU president Demba Ali Jawo who convinced him to stay in the profession.
“So for me it’s a pride to continue the legacy of my brother, my close friend Deyda Hydara all of which is to see The Gambia first, see press freedom, dissent and also giving voice to the voiceless. It is not easy at all and we urge the government to amend the draconian laws,” he said.
The GPU president Sheriff Bojang Jnr. said Deyada Hydara had visualized today’s Gambia.
“He knew this dictatorship we had in the country will come to an end but it wouldn’t end naturally unless someone somewhere takes a stand and fight and sacrifice his life and everything. And this is what he did,” he said.
He said Deyda knew that the regime that was in existence will do anything to hold onto power that will cross dissent. “He fought for you and me. Today we are here. The freedom we claim to be enjoying today was hardly fought by people like Deyda.”
He said Deyda fought for everyone, adding that when he was fighting his kids were not under direct threats.
“The lessons we have to learn all of us as journalists and as human beings and also as Gambians is that we don’t have to wait till we are harmed or our loved ones and families are harmed before we take position somewhere.
“We need to fight injustice anywhere and in any form as this is the first lesson we need to learn as to what Deyda fought for. Deyda fought for repressive laws, some of those draconian laws, would have made it impossible for me and you to work,” he said.
The GPU president added that such draconian laws had triggered the torture of many people particularly journalists like Lamin Fatty and Musa Saidykhan.
“In as much as there is a government that shows a great deal of goodwill, we have a justice minister who does not isolate or instill fear in us but responds to our calls anytime he is invited; despite all that, the lesson is we should not relent, we should not be complacent.
“We should keep on fighting for those draconian laws to be completely wiped out from our law books so that we have a conducive atmosphere to operate and live like journalists and as Gambians but also to keep the hope of Deyda Hydara alive,” Boang Jnr said.
He hailed the Minister of Justice for the great deal of cooperation and understanding. He said the minister was on the other side of political divide when Deyda was killed and therefore he was always there to speak the truth to power.
“And now that you are on the other side of political divide even though I always say you struggle between a human rights lawyer and a government representative as Attorney General and Minister of Justice, you know as much as I do or even more than me what Deyda fought for. So do not turn your back on that. Politics come and go,” he said.
He continued: “Governments come and go but your convictions as human rights defender and your convictions as somebody who believes that every Gambian’s right matters and every Gambian’s live matters, I expect and I have no doubt in my mind that anything for press freedom you won’t gag that. If politicians say no to that, we will see you tendering your resignation and this time even Barrow will stop you from walking out. I believe so and hopefully you can make that vow to us,” he said, directing his statement at the Minister.
Mr. Bojang assured that the GPU will work with the government not as rivals or enemies because enmity has gone forever but as partners, as sons and daughters of the country on mutual understanding with the same aim for the country.
The Attorney General and Minister of Justice Aboubacarr Tambadou was the next on the podium. He said Deyda had given his life so that people can express what is in their mind.
Regarding the question who killed Deyday Hydara, he said they are striving to ensure that the processes that they have established will answer the question and the circumstances leading to it.
“Deyda’s last hours, when he left his office with his staff, the route he took, when he was gunned down and why; these are questions we all want to know and hopefully in the processes that we have established I am pretty sure, almost a 100 percent sure that these truths will be out because they are important,” he said.
In May 2017, the Banjul Magistrates’ Court has issued an arrest warrant for the former army commander Kawsu Camara, alias Bombardier and Sanna Manjang.
Minister Tambadou confirmed that this arrest warrant is still valid but could not tell the locations of the alleged culprits.
“We have some indications as to where they are. Unfortunately I am not at liberty to share those with you because it may jeopardize whatever investigations police are undertaking right now,” he told journalists.
He said the first aspect is to verify their locations and then reach out to the governments of the countries where they are presently located and to initiate the process.
“It is an ongoing matter but it is an investigation that is sensitive and it depends on cross-border cooperation between other countries. The arrest warrant is still valid for the persons of interest to the government and the Gambia Police Force in their investigations into Deyda’s matter,” he said.
Tambadou confirmed that the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) is among the processes instituted to dig deep in the matter, noting that, the TRRC has an advantage over the criminal prosecution.
Criminal prosecution he said provides limited truths because the case will be restricted on the indictment bill while TRRC will help people to understand in broader aspect certain issues like ‘who gave the order.’
“When I said I am 99% sure of the truth on Deyda’s case it is perhaps I have information readily available to me that you don’t have and I am pretty much sure we will establish the truth in public transparently and impartially so that the country will know about the full truth on what happened that night and before that night.
Reforming draconian media laws
“This government is committed and dedicated to making sure that there is an environment not only for you journalists to carry out your work but for Gambians in every station in life to freely express themselves. To facilitate that environment, we are in the process already of drafting amendments,” he disclosed.
He mentioned that the Newspaper Act as well as information and Communications Act are part of several other amendments that will be tabled before the national assembly by the end of this year.
“We have initiated about a week or two ago a review of Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code hopefully by next year the project will kick off,” he said.
He added that the draft terms and references have already been circulated to make sure a comprehensive look at those laws in order to ensure consistency in the applications of criminal laws, there is uniformity and consistency in the penalties that result in the application of those laws.
He remarked: “In the review of Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code, we want to ensure we have the best international standard. It is through that process that we intend to deal away with all of the draconian laws that were promulgated by the former government in order to stifle the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed in our Constitution. So it will happen. There is no doubt to our commitment to that.”
The journalists expressed hope that the truth surrounding Deyda who was one time President of the Gambia Press Union will be known at next year’s commemoration day.