In what is a major breakthrough in the long fight against impunity in The Gambia, two senior government officials have revealed that the Gambian government has decided to comply with the rulings of the ECOWAS Court in the cases of murdered Deyda Hydara, disappeared Chief Ebrima Manneh and tortured Musa Saidykhan.
The Gambian Minister of Information and Communications Infrastructure, Hon Demba Ali Jawo and Special Advisor to the Minister of Justice, Mr Hussein Thomasi announced the decision on November 2, 2017 at a forum held by the MFWA in collaboration with the Gambia Press Union and IFEX to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.
“The Honourable Minister of Justice has commenced negotiations for the fulfilment of the judgements,” Mr Hussein Thomasi said. “We are members of ECOWAS so we cannot do anything in contravention of the body.”
The Minister of Information and Communications infrastructure, Hon Demba Ali Jawo, corroborated Mr Thomasi’s statement by adding that the two Ministries are “going to discuss with the families and see how best to work out the modalities of settling the claims.”
Deyda Hydara a former president of the Gambia Press Union, editor of The Point newspaper and fierce critic of the Jammeh administration, was shot and killed by unknown assailants on his way from work on December 16, 2004. Following the incident, the state opened an investigation into his death and closed it after 22 days. Upon a successful suit by his family, the ECOWAS Court court found the Gambian government guilty of not conducting a proper investigation into his murder, thereby allowing a climate of impunity to thrive and thus stifling freedom of expression. The court also ordered the Gambian government to pay US$50,000 in compensatory damages.
In the case of Musa Saidykhan, he was arrested on March 27, 2006 at his home by police and officials of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and taken to the agency’s offices were he was detained for 22 days. Within the period, Saidykhan was moved from various detention centres. While in detention, he was accused of being a traitor for appealing to then president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki to intervene in the human rights violations (including the murder of Hydara) in The Gambia. The NIA also arrested two of his colleagues and accused them of authoring an ‘error-ridden’ story on a failed coup. The officials tortured them to various forms of torture on various occasions including the administration of electrical shocks to Saidykhan’s body which sent him into coma for about 30 minutes. He was later released on bail after which he went into exile.
Chief Ebrima Manneh a reporter of The Daily Observer, for his part, was arrested by the NIA on July 7, 2006. The NIA accused him of passing what it described as “damaging” information to a BBC journalist during an African Union meeting. He was also accused of attempting to republish a BBC story criticising Jammeh’s coup to power. After his arrest, Manneh was spotted with prison, police and NIA officers as he was moved between various police stations and detention centres. Despite overwhelming eyewitness evidence that the NIA arrested Manneh and detained him incommunicado on the orders of the Jammeh government, the government and the NIA always denied taking him into custody and has since not been seen.
In two separate cases, the MFWA filed a case at the ECOWAS court over the enforced disappearance of Chief Ebrima Manneh and the arbitrary arrest and torture of Musa Saidykhan. The court in 2008 ruled that Manneh’s arrest and detention was illegal and ordered the Gambian authorities to immediately release him and pay him or in in default his family US$100,000 compensation. The judgment was given in default as the Gambian government refused to enter an appearance. In 2010, the Court ruled that The Gambia had violated Saidykhan’s human rights and awarded him US$200,000 in compensatory damages.
The Gambia under Yahya Jammeh refused to comply with the Court’s judgement despite persistent calls by several organisations including the MFWA which, among other initiatives, petitioned ECOWAS to sanction The Gambia.
Following a successful transfer of power to the current administration, the MFWA undertook a mission to The Gambia and held discussions on the cases with government officials including the President, His Excellency Adama Barrow, who indicated his commitment to press freedom and fighting impunity in The Gambia. The announcement that measures have been put in place to start meeting with the families of the victims is therefore a milestone in the long and arduous journey embarked on by the MFWA and its national partner organisation in The Gambia, the GPU as well as other local and international media and human rights organisations such as IFEX to bring closure to the above three emblematic cases of impunity.