Friday, December 23, 2005

57 journalists murdered; a country where dead journalists make the news

Worldwide so far this year, 57 journalists have been murdered

The following is taken from:

Country Where Dead Journalists Make the News

December 20, 2005

By Allen Meagher. Source: Irish Times

GAMBIA: Independent journalists would 'go six feet under', said the president, and his threat was not an idle one. Allen Meagher reports on the first anniversary of the death of Deyda Hydara.

Journalist Deyda Hydara could only be seen this weekend walking the streets of Banjul on T-shirts that Gambians wear in honour of their fallen hero.

It is just a year since the father of Gambian journalism and editor of The Point was killed, reputedly by government-linked assassins called the "Green Boys". As is so often the case with murdered journalists, the killers remain free.

Over the weekend West African journalists held a conference in The Gambia to mark the first anniversary of the killing. However, the Gambian regime barred entry to keynote speaker Leonard Vincent of Reporters Sans Frontires (RSF). He was due to speak on press freedom, democracy and development in Africa.

While many journalists in Africa experience persecution, only six have been murdered in the past two years. Gambia's record, particularly given its small population (1.4 million) is proportionately the worst at present on the continent, for Hydara was the second journalist killed since the president declared that independent journalists would "go six feet under".

CNN and PEN International each posthumously awarded the journalist their highest honours for his work as a human-rights defender.

In the meanwhile, RSF, whom Hydara represented in Gambia, concluded after an investigation that the murder "seemed to be the work of the regime."

The chief suspects have never been questioned and former soldier President Yahya Jammeh seems more concerned with upcoming elections next year and has so far resisted international pressure for an independent investigation into Hydara's killing.

Last Friday Mr Vincent criticised the hardline president for seeing RSF as "the enemy" and noted that Gambian journalists "are not only threatened by an aggressive president but also by one of the worst sets of laws in Africa".

The day after Hydara had criticised laws that threaten journalists with a minimum six-month prison term for writing anything "seditious" or generally libellous, he was shot dead. Months earlier, a BBC correspondent survived a murder attempt and the Independent newspaper was burnt to the ground (it soon reopened).

Of 13 student journalists and two prominent editors with whom I once worked closely, two have been murdered, a couple have fled the country, at least one was deported, another had his radio station closed down, two were sacked and most have been arrested and detained at one time or another.

Such incidents - compounded this November by the jailing of three opposition leaders - are provoking sharp international criticism.

However, President Jammeh has concerns closer to hand. He fired his army chief of staff, Assan Sarr, a fortnight ago, amid discontent within the army over non-payments of salary. He is also facing into presidential and parliamentary elections next year.

Worldwide so far this year, 57 journalists have been murdered, according to the International Press Institute. Most of the killers are never brought to justice.

On the positive side, the dropping of anti-press laws by Angola and the Central African Republic has seen their human rights records improve dramatically this year. They emerge with better track records in dealing with the media than some rich countries.

In The Gambia, unfortunately, dead journalists continue to make the news.

Allen Meagher is founding editor of Changing Ireland community development magazine, based in Moyross, Limerick. He previously worked for over two years in The Gambia and organised media training with Deyda Hydara for colleagues in the Gambia Press Union.



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