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Former Gambian hit squad member sentenced for the murder of Deyda Hydara

(Banjul, 30 Nov., 2023) – The Gambia Press Union (GPU) welcomes today’s verdict and sentencing of Bai Lowe, a former death squad member under ex-dictator Yahya Jammeh, to life imprisonment for his role in the murder of journalist Deyda Hydara.

The Higher Regional Court of Celle, a northern town in Germany, found Lowe guilty on all charges of crimes against humanity on Thursday, November 30, 2023, and sentenced him to life imprisonment for the assassination of  Deyda Hydara in 2004, the murder of a former soldier in 2006, and the attempted assassination of a lawyer.

Deyda was co-founder of The Point newspaper, and a correspondent of Agence France-Presse, AFP and Reporters Without Borders, RSF. He was known to be a fierce critic of Jammeh and his tyranny and had questioned Jammeh’s desire to prolong his stay in power. Jammeh had ruled the Gambia with an iron fist for 10 years when he order Deyda’s killing, according to testimonies, and for 12 more years after his assassination.

Lowe, 41, who denied the charges, was a driver for Jammeh’s death squad known as the “Junglers”. Evidence of Lowe’s involvement in gross human rights violations were mainly collected from confessions he made in interviews with the US-based Freedom Newspaper in 2013 after he fled the country. In it, Lowe explained how he drove the Junglers to kill people considered opponents of the dictator in several operations – thanks to the late journalist Pa Nderry M’Bai whose bravery and commendable work helped revealed the atrocious activities of the Junglers. Lowe had tried to change that narrative during the Celle trial by claiming in one occasion that he pretended to be a Jungler and that interviews he gave were based on accounts he heard.

“The GPU has longed for the killers of Deyda Hydara to face justice for 19 years since his death. Therefore, Lowe’s sentencing by the Higher Regional Court of Celle is a remarkable feat in fight to end impunity for crimes against journalists,” GPU Secretary General, Modou S. Joof, said.

“This is a first step. Our ultimate wish is to see Yahaya Jammeh and the soldiers who actually pulled the trigger in the drive by shooting of Deyda Hydara on 16th December, 2004 held accountable for this atrocious crime against a journalist,” Joof said.

The Junglers military unit was “used by the then-president of The Gambia to carry out illegal killing orders, among other things” with the aim of “intimidating the Gambian population and suppressing the opposition”, according to federal prosecutors.

“Bai Lowe’s conviction and sentencing in Germany is a crucial step forward in Gambia’s transitional justice journey,” GPU President, Muhammed S. Bah, said.

“It serves as a valuable lesson for the government of the Gambia to expedite justice for Jammeh’s victims, many of them journalists, who anxiously await the fairness they deserve. With this precedent, the stage is set— there is no time to waste,” Bah said.

Lowe’s sentencing is the first for post-Jammeh era crimes prosecuted under universal jurisdiction. Two other Gambians, a former minister of interior, Ousman Sonko and a former death squad member, Michael Sang Correa, are being held in pre-trial detention in Switzerland and the USA for their alleged involvement in dictatorship-era atrocities similar to those Lowe is to serve jail time for.

Pap Saine, who founded The Point newspaper with Deyda Hydara, welcomes the decision of the German court for sentencing Bai Lowe to life in jail.

“It paved the way for ex-president Yahya Jammeh and all perpetrators to be tried and to be punished accordingly,” Saine said. “Gambia government should not waste time in bringing to book all culprits involved in killings during Jammeh’s time.”

In the Gambia, Jammeh’s former junta ally, Yankuba Touray, is currently on death row after he was sentenced to death for the murder of a former finance minister. In December 2021, Gambia’s truth commission found Yahya Jammeh, who now lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea, responsible for murder, rape and torture during his 22-year rule.

“Be it universal jurisdiction or local jurisdiction, justice shall prevail for the Jammeh-era victims. Most of the crimes committed during this era are heinous and they must not go in thin air without justice being served,” Deyda’s son, Baba Hydara, said.

“Impunity in the Gambia will never go unpunished. We want justice to prevail under any circumstances, and like Bai Lowe, we want all his accomplices to face justice and get punished,” he said.

Deyda was not only a doyen in Gambian journalism, he was also a trade unionist who led the Gambia Press Union between 1989 to 1998.

He spent much of his life molding younger journalist during his time and fighting for their welfare, and as well, fighting for press freedom and freedom of expression – including against repressive media laws.

 

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