A self-proclaimed healer who says he has found cures to AIDS, obesity and erectile dysfunction, Yahya Jammeh has all the qualities of an unpredictable, violent and deranged dictator. He has vowed to cut off the heads of all homosexuals in order to clean up Gambian society.
And he has declared himself ready to kill anyone trying to destabilise the country, above all human rights activists and other troublemakers. "If you are affiliated with any human rights group, rest assured that your security and personal safety would not be guaranteed by my government," he threatened in a September 2009 televised address. "We are ready to kill saboteurs." No one takes his threats lightly.
The unsolved murder of Deyda Hydara, AFP correspondent and editor of the tri-weekly The Point, who was shot dead on a street in 2004, continues to fuel tension between the regime and the independent media. Jammeh insisted yet again in March 2011 that he was not involved in Hydara's death and at the same time he warned that he would not "sacrifice the interests, the peace and stability and well-being of the Gambian people at the altar of freedom of expression."
The Gambia Press Union dared to address an open letter to the president in 2009 urging him to recognise the government's involvement in this murder. The response? Six journalists got two-year jail sentences on defamation and sedition charges. And were pardoned after a month in prison, because Jammeh is sometimes capable of leniency. He usually does not bother with charges when locking up journalists. Chief Ebrima Manneh, a reporter for the Daily Observer, was arrested without charge in 2006 and then disappeared. He probably died in prison in 2008.
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