An army officer in The Gambia has accused former President Yahya Jammeh of ordering the 2004 murder of journalist Deyda Hydara, and admitted he was involved in the killing.
Hydara, who was editor and co-founder of the independent The Point daily and a correspondent for AFP news agency and Journalists Without Borders (RSF), was killed by unidentified gunmen in his car on the outskirts of the capital, Banjul, in December 2004.
“We opened fire, myself, Alieu Jen and Sana Manjang,” Lieutenant Malick Jatta said at the public hearing before a truth commission on Monday, naming two other military officers in Hydara’s killing.
“Our commander, Captain Tumbul Tamba was communicating to the former president, Yahya Jammeh, on the phone during the operation. He saying to him, ‘Yes Sir, Your Excellency,'” he said.
Jatta told the commission his commanding officer later gave him an envelope containing dollars, which he said was a “sign of appreciation from the big man”, a reference to Jammeh.
“I would be certain that it was from the former president. Tumbul had no source of gathering dollars,” he said.
Jatta said one of the cars used during the assassination was from Jammeh’s fleet and normally parked in the autocrat’s former garage in Kanifing outside Banjul.
He said they ambushed Hydara and drove off, but without being told their victim’s name. The journalist was in a car with two women at the time he was shot.
Jammeh had said in an interview on Gambian state television that the government had “no stake” in the killing. He hinted that Hydara’s love life had led to the murder.
Extradition to Gambia
Up until his testimony, there was no known public confession or evidence tying the former president to the murder of the journalist. Jammeh, now living in exile, has denied involvement in Deyda’s murder.
“Today is a sad day for Gambian journalists,” said Sheriff Bojang Jr., head of the Gambia Press Union.
Jammeh seized power in a bloodless coup in 1994 and ruled for more than 22 years, until he was deposed in 2017.
His refusal to leave power after losing a presidential election sparked a regional crisis, which ended when Jammeh agreed to live in exile in Equatorial Guinea.
Supported by the United Nations, The Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission, was set up in October to investigate alleged abuses under his 22-year rule.
In 2017, NGOs and families of victims killed during Jammeh’s rule, including Hydara’s son, launched an international campaign aimed at bringing the former despot to justice.
Pap Babucarr Saine, Hydara’s colleague and managing editor of The Point, told the truth commission earlier that Hydara was killed for writing about the rampant corruption in The Gambia under Jammeh.
“He was always sensitising the populace on the corrupt practices of the regime as well as the rights violations that were taking place at the time,” local newspapers quoted him as saying.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in a statement on Monday said Jammeh should be extradited to The Gambia to stand trial.
“For 15 years, CPJ has called on Gambian authorities to do everything in their power to ensure those who carried out Deyda Hydara’s killing are brought to justice,” Angela Quintal, the CPJ’s Africa Programme coordinator said.
“[On Monday], Yahya Jammeh himself was accused of giving the order to kill a respected journalist.
“Jammeh should be extradited to Gambia without delay to stand trial for the murder of Hydara and other abuses carried out during his rule.”