By Ndey Tapha Sosseh and Marie Pierre Hydara
Shock, trauma, and pain would perhaos under describing the feelings that Deydas family, Gambian journalists and the public at large had hearing junglars (hitmen of former President Jammeh) appearing before the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission in late July and early August 2019 confess to murdering Deyda Hydara in cold blood..
Three members of the Gambia National Army Omar A Jallow, Malick Jatta, and Alieu Jeng all confirmed participating in Operation Magic Pen, the pursuit, trailing, and shooting of Deyda Hydara. The trio testified that they acted under the instructions of the Commander of the Patrol Team the late Tumbul Tamba, who was said to have taken instructions from the then head of state, President Jammeh. After the incident, members of the hit squad who participated in the operation all proceeded to the Kanilai residence of President Jammeh and received an envelope of US Dollars as a token of appreciation from President Jammeh.
Since December 2004, the Gambia Press Union, Hydara family, human rights groups and concerned actors all called on the government of The Gambia to investigate Deyda Hydaras murder. Beyond a Presidential state media interview vilifying the late journalist in June 2009, no action was taken. Journalists and family members asking for investigations were harassed, detained, jailed and some exiled.
In 2014, following a family initiated lawsuit The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice found the Gambia Government liable for failing to diligently investigate Deyda Hydara’s murder and awrded them US$60,000 in damages and legal fees, the Jammeh government did not comply with the ruling.
Many Gambians were convinced the state was involved. However, until the appearance of the Junglars at the TRRC, no one was certain it was on Executive Orders.
The TRRC Confessions were the missing link to the puzzle:
Though the Hydara family was prepared for the worst as it was an open secret that agents of the Government were involved in their fathers death, Deydas daughter Marie Pierre was particularly traumatized by some of the Junglars choice of words like “I scored 50,000” in reference to the dalasi equivalent of the token of appreciation from Jammeh. I did not know that my fathers life was a football game.
Journalism For Human Rights
Deydas journalism career started as presenter in Radio Syd in the early 1970’s. In 1974, he became a correspondent of Agence France Press then later Reporters without Borders. In 1988, Deyda left the radio to set up a printing press company. Feeling that his journalistic career needed a bigger challenge, in 1991 Deyda Hydara co-founded The Point with his friends Pap Saine and Babucarr Gaye who eventually resigned. Pap Saine is still managing director of the paper:
The Yayha Jammeh led military junta of July 1994 had from the very onset created a hostile environment for journalists; arresting, detaining, sending to exile non Gambian journalists working in the country, closing Media houses. A fierce advocate of press freedom, Deyda vehemently opposed the ongoing abuse and violations of the rights of the journalists. This trend obviously defined the relationship between Deyda, then chairperson of the Gambia Press Union and the junta.
An ardent critic of government particularly on issues such as bad governance corruption, human rights and farmers rights, Deyda raised these in his weekly columns The Bite and Good Morning Mr President: Deyda directly criticized Jammeh, commended his government where necessary. A balanced social commentator; Deyda even offered suggestions on how to improve the situation. This stance obviously didn’t go well with President Jammeh as Deyda was called in for questioning at various police stations and later at the notorious National Intelligence Agency: On several occasions, following articles critical of government, Deyda was accused of publishing information that was a threat to national security.
Deyda used the paper as a platform for poor, the voiceless and the oppressed. He became a household name reporting and holding public officers to account The Point was also a training hub for young aspiring journalists. Deyda personally took them under his wing, encouraging them to improve on their journalism skills and general knowledge.
Two days before he was assassinated, on December 14, 2004, the Gambian Parliament passed two new media laws. The Newspaper (Amendment) Bill, mandating expensive operating licenses, and the use of title deeds of landed property as guarantee. The Criminal Code (Amendment) Bill criminalized defamation and sedition.
Deyda Hydara lashed out, criticizing the move as the Governments ultimate attempt to muzzle the Press and silence critics. Deyda announced his intent to challenge the laws in Court. A pill too bitter for Jammeh to swallow? Deyda was not to see his day in Court. On December 16, 2004 shortly after celebrating The Points 13th Anniversary; Deyda Hydara was shot thrice by unknown gunmen while driving home with his staff, two of his colleagues were also injured.
His family believes this move cost him his life. And, say that Deyda Hydara died an honourable man, for he stood, fought for his ideals, took the ultimate sacrifice and left this world a champion of Free Expression.
The Gambia Press Union, numerous media rights groups The African Editors Forum, West African Journalists Association, International Federation of Journalists, Article 19, Committee to Protect Journalists International PEN, and human rights NGOs Amnesty International, International Federation for Human Rights, Front Line Defenders condemned the assassination of Deyda and called on the Gambia Government to investigate the matter.
Painful as it was, Deydas assassination brought global attention to the plight of Gambian journalists and the stifling environment within which the media operated.
Loving Family Man
Survived by a wife, Maria and five children, dedicated and committed staff and colleagues, Deyda Hydara has always proven to be a reliable, family oriented man.
With parents of Mauritanian Origin, Deyda was born on 9th June 1946; in Banjul then Bathurst. His parents expected him to become an Islamic scholar. However at a very tender age Deyda showed traits of resilience and determination in seeking Western education with the support of a family friend. Deyda zent on to get College offer to Study in Senegal. His dreqms to pursue Literqture Studies in Universtity ended in year 2? When as the forst son he was called upon to step up and take care of his aging mum, Halima.
From then on, Deyda had the responsibility to look after his mum and siblings. As a son, sibling and later husband and father, Deyda always sought to cater for the needs of his family whilst pleasing them at the same time. His decision to launch The Point on his wifes Birthday, December 13 was to honour her with a legacy for posterity.
Unfortunately, this beautiful gift of love, appreciation and mutual respect will always be marred by the bloody hands of a dictators gunmen, as Marias birthday and The Points anniversary will always be celebrated whilst commemorating the death of a loving, caring, and selfless father.