By Rohey Jadama

The Gambia Press Union (GPU) in partnership with The Point Newspaper, the Hydara Family and the Victim Centre and Article 19 commemorated the 13th anniversary of the murder of a veteran and fierce Gambian Journalist Deyda  Hydara, a former president  and founder of the Gambia Press Union.

The event funded by IFEX through media foundation for West Africa was characterized by procession from along the Kanifing Municipality Council gate up to where he was gunned down at Sankung Sillah factory. The marchers then proceeded to the University of the Gambia auditorium at the Law Faculty.

The forum paid tribute to journalists who have lost their lives or were subjected to other forms of rights violations in the course of their journalism duties and also to advance the fundamental principles of press freedom.

The Minister of Information and communications, Infrastructure Demba A. Jawo, in his Keynote Address, delivered on his behalf by Mrs. Ndey Tapha Sosseh, said On December 16, 2004, renowned Gambian journalist Deyda Hydara was shot dead.  Deyda’s case, like in most cases, was perpetuated by rampant impunity.  90 percent of the time, again as in Deyda’s case, the perpetrators are never brought to justice.

“On this 13th anniversary of Deyda Hydara’s death, I am relieved that we will go beyond calling for justice as we have been doing for the past 13 years.  This year, the new Government of The Gambia has agreed to respect the decisions of the ECOWAS Community Court in vis-à-vis compensating the families of Deyda Hydara and Chief Ebrima Manneh.  My colleague, Abubacarr Tambadou, the Minister of Justice is in contact with the families to discuss payment modalities”, he said.

He reaffirmed the Gambia Government’s commitment through his ministry in creating the enabling environment for both Gambian and international journalists in the country to perform their duties without fear of reprisals.

“As indicated by daily revelations at the Commission of Inquiry looking into the former president’s assets and finances, discoveries of Police investigations and the Solo Sandeng Trial, it is evident that when journalists were targeted in The Gambia, our whole society had to pay the price.   News that could have covered corruption, fraud, conflicts of interest, and even state sponsored murder was silenced”, said the Information and Communication Infrastructure Minister.

According to the Information Minister, “This is the kind of information the Gambian public has a right to know. Access to Information is also considered an urgent public need by my Ministry, hence we have over the past two months fast-tracked all initiatives to work towards the formulation and drafting of a Bill.  It is evident that an ATI Law alone will not solve the problems faced by the Gambian media whilst repressive media laws still exist,” he said.

He revealed his ministry’s intent to engage and work with security services of The Gambia to investigate all cases involving the assault of journalists conducting their lawful professional duties.

Such investigations, according to him, will not only assist in bringing the culprits to book, but, the intention is to send a clear message to other would-be perpetrators that under the new dispensation, the Gambia Government will not tolerate these wanton acts of impunity against journalists.

Speaking earlier Bai Emil Touray, the President of the Gambia Press Union, paid homage to Deyda Hydara, Omar Barrow, and all other individuals who died in their line of duties.

According to the GPU President, this day is a historic day, it is an important day in the history of the media industry in the country. He said they are not only marking the 13thanniversary of the murder of Deyda Hydara but they are also marking the demise of tyranny.

“It is important to point out that this day is a day of reflection, stock taking , a day of mapping out the  way forward for the future of this country as well as creating the enabling environment for journalists to be able to do their work in tandem in with the ethics of journalism and as well as the laws governing freedom of expression”, he said.

He continued, “It is important to point out that this day is not only significant for journalists but significant for all those who stood for the truth and have defended the truth throughout the last 22 years. Some of you will agree with me that this time year, all of us would not have thought of taking to the streets to commemorate this day. The fact that we are able to mount a procession from the KMC grounds to the site where Deyda was gunned down is a clear indication that we are moving ahead and there is a significant change in the political landscape of this country”.

Mr. Touray, added that they are commemorating the day not only to call on the state to investigate the gruesome murder of Deyda Hydara or the circumstances leading to his death but to as well ask the state to work towards repealing the laws that are not in line with international standards.

Mr Baba Hydara, son of Deyda Hydara said, “This day is a day to reflect on the sacrifices made by journalists who paid the price for standing up against dictatorship, like my dad and Chief Manneh and all others who went through torture, imprisonment and detention  like Uncle Pap Saine , like Musa Saidykhan and the list goes on”, said Baba Hydara, the son of the late Deyda  Hydara.

Mr. Hydara said his Dad devoted his whole life to raise journalism to where it is today, but unfortunately, he never lived to witness it.

For his part, Pap Saine, the Co-founder of The Point Newspaper, appealed to  the Gambia government to abolish all the draconian media laws so that there will be press freedom.

“Deyda was a talented  journalist, he was killed because of two things; because he was critical of the former regime,” he asserted. He said that time there was a lot of corruption, abuse of human rights and he stood for the voiceless. “Before his death, he and some of his colleagues filed a suit against the government about these draconian laws. That is why the authorities at that time were not happy with him”, he said.

He urged the current government to bring the killers of Deyda to book and try them without waste of time. He said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs needs to do everything possible to ensure that any country that harbours the killers of Deyda repatriate them to be tried in The Gambia.

“Where is  Chief Manneh”, questioned , Madam Adama Manneh, a  sister of Ebrima Chief Manneh, who was arrested and  disappeared  since July, 2006 without trace.

According to Madam Manneh, Chief Manneh was  picked up from his office at Daily Observer on 11 July, 2006 by police officers and some National Intelligence Agency officials(NIA) and later taken to Bakau Police Station, where  he was detained and later transferred to NIA office in Banjul for a couple of weeks  and then taken to the Mile two Central Prison.

“Chief was born in 18th February 1978 and he was not married and had no children. My brother was a very humble and truthful person. His disappearance was detrimental to the Manneh family. He was the breadwinner and the hope of the family.  Deyda was like a mentor and a father to my brother. Deyda Hydara and my brother are smiling today in peace at heaven,” said Chief Manneh’s Sister.

For his part, Amadou Scatred Janneh, from the Victims Centre, speaking on behalf of victims of Press Freedom Violation, said it is incumbent upon them to honour the legacies of Deyda Hydara, Chief Manneh and others by upholding the values for which they risk their lives.

“While the environment for press freedom has changed substantially for better, we must never let our guards down in ensuring that the climate remains positive. There are many ways for us to do that. We must ensure we continue the fight as Pap Saine mentioned here some of the draconian laws should be decriminalised. Defamation, slander and libel, should be a civil matter and not criminal. We must continue the fight to ensure that those laws are removed from our books”, said Scatred Janneh.

He said we must fight to end impunity, adding that every effort must be exerted to ensure that all perpetrators of heinous crimes particularly, against media practitioners are brought to justice.

Mr. Samuel Osseh Sarr, the managing Editor of  Foroyaa Newspaper said  this day is a significant day in the history of the Gambia, because it was on this day that somebody who stood for the freedom of the media was gunned down.

“He could not be silenced in one way or the other and he was eventually gunned down so that the truth will not come out. But that is a mistake; a mistaken idea because you can never suppress the truth. If the truth does not come out today, it will come out one day”, said the Foroyaa Managing Editor.

He continued, “I do not want to be sentimental. We are now in a new era, we have moved away from the era where you were unable to speak out your mind. Now that we live in the new era, all the things that happened before, have to come out. It is not the time for rumours. Structures have been created; a truth, reconciliation and reparation commission is in the making. There is also a victims center, which I see as a rallying point for victims where people who were victims before can take their problems and they can receive advice and be guided”.

He urged people to utilize the new structures and institutions that are in place, adding that there is no more time for rumours. He addesd, “If you are in America, pay your fares and come and testify before the commission. No more rumours, come with facts. Those that have the information come forward, don’t go and leak information to the online media or newspapers. Go and tell the commission what you know, that is what we need now. The truth has to come out and that is the only way the truth can come out”.

The Director General of the Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS), presented on the theme “Digital Migration and how it affects media development and press freedom.” The full text will be published in our subsequent editions.

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