Torture of Journalists: The Painful Story of Gambia’s Musa Saidykhan

The absolute and non-derogable prohibition against torture is routinely disregarded by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh’s regime, which has subjected countless Gambians to torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment and treatment for over twenty years.

In light of this widespread practice and in connection with the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (June 26), the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) is highlighting the story of one Gambian torture victim: Musa Saidykhan.

In 2006, Saidykhan was arrested, detained, and tortured by Gambian security forces for three weeks for exercising his right to freedom of expression and press freedom. In 2007, the MFWA assisted Musa in suing The Gambia at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice. In 2010, the Court ruled in favour of Musa, finding that The Gambia had violated his human rights to personal liberty, fair trial, and personal dignity under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Court also awarded US$200,000 in compensatory damages.

Human rights courts, such as the ECOWAS Court, can invaluably support victims by providing remedies and reparations. Musa himself described courts as “the consolation centers of those who seek redress.” Unfortunately, due to implementation failures, Musa’s consolation was short-lived.

In an email interview with us, Musa described his initial excitement at the Court’s decision, followed by disappointment about the judgment’s lack of teeth:

[In 2010,] I was delighted that justice at last prevailed in my case. The goal is not only about being compensated, but also to show or teach a dictatorial regime that [violating] human rights has a bitter price to pay. I decided to be a pacesetter to give courage to other victims of the Jammeh dictatorship to follow suit. If I had not tested the waters, other Gambian victims would not dare seek redress at the ECOWAS Court. Yes, I am hopeful that damages will be paid if the ECOWAS is engaged in a proper manner.

[Now,] I feel disappointed by a sub-regional body that has effectively demonstrated its inability or weakness to implement the verdict of the ECOWAS Community Court. The very ECOWAS leaders who approved the Court’s establishment and funding are not interested in protecting human rights, as evidenced by their lack of interest in making sure that State Parties are forced to comply with the Court. As a matter of urgency, ECOWAS leaders need to prevail on The Gambia to comply if they want to be taken seriously. . . .  ECOWAS should even threaten The Gambia with sanctions or expulsion for its non-compliance, which sets a bad precedent for the regional grouping. . . .

The Gambia’s non-compliance has undoubtedly killed the spirits of many ECOWAS citizens whose governments violate their rights. How can anyone convince these victims [to go to court] when they don’t expect to be paid damages upon winning their cases? If I were not in the United States, my children would be like those of displaced Gambians in Senegal, whose parents cannot afford to provide meals for them, let alone send them to school. These uneducated children will live with pain and anger, which will ultimately force them to become rebels. I want ECOWAS leaders to understand that their failure to act in these cases [such as mine] has direct bearing on [other] victims and their tearful families. . . .

I expect the ECOWAS Court to act like the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Appeal in terms of effectiveness. No country in the EU bloc is brave enough to ignore these courts’ rulings. That country will have its membership and benefits reviewed for disrespecting the EU. It’s about time the ECOWAS reviewed The Gambia’s membership and benefits.

Brave victims of torture who approach courts despite risks deserve to see the justice meted out by courts implemented in practice. For the ECOWAS and ECOWAS Court to fulfil their roles as proponents of human rights and justice, impunity cannot be allowed to prevail in West Africa. The MFWA joins Musa in calling for the ECOWAS to exercise its powers under Article 77 of the ECOWAS Treaty and impose sanctions against The Gambia to force compliance. It is time to fully support the victims of West Africa’s King of Impunity and grant them the justice, compensation, and closure they so greatly deserve.

Courtesy of




  1. What’s the essences of writing laws if cannot be enforced?

    Lack of rule of law is the main reason Africa could not join the ranks of progressive nations.

    This goes to say that Africa has long way to go. Very sad indeed.

  2. Very sad. …

  3. Musa’s ordeal is our very own pain. His case, exemplifies the very best in us. That no matter what is inflicted on us , we will stand up again for ourselves and for our wider peoples.

    I salute Mr. Saidykhan for his resolute resolve not be silenced and the noble journey which led to the establishment of kaironews. You are a role model.

  4. Musa is a national hero who stood up for freedom of expression. Jammeh is a coward who will pay the price of his human rights violations no matter how long it takes.

  5. Simply incomprehensible, to say the least. What kind of person can inflict so much pain on his fellow being ?

    • Bax, a type of person who inflicted such a horrific pain is small, nasty, evil and insecure man under the command of his master. Such a man is helped by people who refused to stand up for justice. Musa was tortured by the same men who tortured peaceful protesters who you refused to support. His torture was as a result of his constitutional responsibility he carried out just like the peaceful protesters Carried out their constitutional responsibility to seek fairness in representation of our collective interest. You forget to remember that your efforts is a representation of such an insecure man who inflicted horrific pain on their fellow citizens. Imagine if your family members should experience such a horrific pain I wonder if you would still have the same position as you currently have, that is your position not to support peaceful protesters or your party’s efforts not support peaceful protesters. In answering your question above, I would like you to take personal experiences and put yourself in the position of Musa and all those victims of torture then you will understand what kind of a person inflicted such a pain. I hope I answered your question.

      • Max…I don’t know what the freaking hell you are talking about…How can my efforts (whatever they are) represent people who torture others…? Are you for real…?

        Look here, I respect the rights of people to demonstrate, and I understand that peaceful demos are constitutionally guaranteed by The Gambian Constitution (the same one you call “toilet paper”), but whether to exercise that right to demonstrate or not, and when to do so, is down to individual choice(s) and decision making….

        Your reluctance or outright refusal to accept this fundamental principle of Democracy and Free choice, exposes you as a person who merely pays lip service to Democracy, but have no respect for its tenets.

        How else could a person like you, who refused to respect the rights of others not to demonstrate, be described ? You are definitely not behaving like one who respects democracy and freedom of choice ..

        Moreover, isn’t it an irony that you are talking about rights to peaceful demonstrations that are guaranteed by a constitution you called “toilet paper”…? How can you talk about guaranteed rights in a “toilet paper”…?

        As far as your position on the constitution is concerned, there are no guarantees to/for anything because we only have “toilet paper” and toilet paper cannot guarantee anything.

        • Bax , my focus is on the main reason why musa and others victims were tortured . They were tortured because of the failure to recognize their rights in pursuit of our collective interest. When such rights are violated we should all come together to defend those rights as one people. The sense of fighting together our collective rights and interest is what makes us nation state and it show the sense of nationalism and patriotism. You failed to be your brothers keeper instead you engage in isolationism or politics of individualism and such political philosophy lead us to corruption, impunity, human right abuses and moral decadence of our society. This is why Jammeh has successfully managed to abuse and terrorized the whole nation without much resistance. We are indeed a nation of cowards because majority failed to take up their constitutional responsibilities as citizens to fight and defend what is morally and constitutionally right . It was this reason that I indicated your efforts and many of your types are representation of insecure man who inflicted such a horrific pain on their fellow citizens. If we all sit on the fence Just like you and the silence majority, Gambia will be destroyed in a twinkle of eye . Historically, it is small number of patriotic citizens who started and spearheaded efforts to liberate people as it was demonstrated by solo Sanderg and his group . Another issue I have with your view is the way and manner you continue to badmouth the efforts of peaceful protesters. Yes , democracy is about choices but in our country we do not have democracy. We have military dictatorship. It is your rights to keep quiet and be silent contributor to sustainability of dictatorship or it is also your choice to be an advocate of human rights and democracy. There are different methods to engage the status in order to change it for the benefit of all but your efforts is in fact legitimizing the dictatorship as it is done for the sake of it without any specific goal or intention of change of regime .

          • Max…

            I agree, in principle, about collective action but collective action, from organised groups like political parties and trade unions etc, requires extensive consultation, discussions and agreements, especially when they have different visions, missions and approaches to dealing with issues that concern them.

            Barring these, any group that takes it upon themselves to pursue their own course of action must take full responsibility for the consequences of their actions. That is where I differ with you. I think it is unfair, unjustified and unacceptable to blame people who were neither consulted, nor have shown any plans to take the actions that any one particular group took, and this applies to the 14th & 16th April actions.

            I should add here that spontaneous mass actions from rank and file ordinary people is completely different from that of organised groups, especially political parties, and that seems to be a fact you are struggling to understand, hence your inability to distinguish between the two.

            If consultations and discussions take place and agreements are reached, this will lead to a common strategy, which will have the advantage of not only setting out the objectives of the envisaged actions clearly, but also giving everyone involved clear ideas of what steps to take to respond to any unfolding situation(s) until their objectives are attained, and the situation/condition(s) which necessitated those actions no longer exist(s).

            We had a situation in the country for which people demonstrated or held public protest on 14th & 16th April, to make demands. We know what happened afterwards. This medium is reporting that 22 people have been released on bail and I hope the rest are also released and these cases discontinued.

            However, it has to be pointed out that the conditions of the unfair electoral landscape and the unclear situation of Solo Sandeng (though presumed dead and most likely so), which precipitated those actions, are still existing and more or less, the same as before those actions.

            The question I want to ask you is, “what next” ? Are you now going to ask these 22 people to go out and resume their demonstrations or protest actions because their demands have not been met : NO electoral reform took place and Solo has not been produced, dead or alive ? Or is that it..? Let’s hear what you have to say on that…

            The charges of “isolationism” and “individualism” politics are just concoctions of your imagination that you made up and don’t really deserve a response. You are now known for concocting your own false argument points, attributing these to your opponents and then pretending to be arguing against them, but arguing against yourself in actual fact . Who is promoting “isolationism” and “individualism” in Gambian opposition politics…? Please, behave yourself.

    • The kind of person/s that can inflict so much pain on his fellow being are usually despots who are enabled by heartless and crooked political writers.
      I agree with Kinteh here that, Musa’s ordeal is our very own pain. And also true is, he is Gambia and Africa’s role model. God bless people like him and God bless the Gambia.

  6. Certainly closure of injustices committed during the MURDEROUS kanilai FIEFDOM will inevitably come when we successfully terminate the MURDEROUS OPPRESSIVE kanilai KILLER DEVIL & devilish elements; keep up your spirit Musa; yours is a selfless sacrifice for the common greater good making Africa & the world at large better place for humanity….

    Africa’s predicaments are for selfish politicians who supposed to be truthfully representative for the masses but rather manipulatively bent to lie for materialistic greed & positions at expenses of decent human lives being perished pungently…

    Halifa for example have been such a selfish liar bent on distortions of constitutional rights & requirements of citizens; majority of the Gambian peasantry population rely & look up to the noble politicians particularly the opposition leaderships who should inform, define & educate the masses of the judicious constitutional statutory stipulations; where as Halifa instead pretentiously appear to be in struggle to liberate Gambia but realistically (he is) a mercenary element aid abetting MURDEROUS DICTATORSHIP in reality; otherwise why would Halifa chose to distort article no. 2 of Gambian constitutional provisions into “two potential powers” which potentially confused some of the peasantry population on the ground not fully understand their rights in such situations but who instead look up to such political serpents masquerades cum-politicians…

    Reality is Gambia have departed from the harbour of political barbaric brutalities sailing in search of freedom & judicious equality for all human beings Gambians & otherwise in peaceful coexistence; UDP so far have been the only political party who truthfully assume their constitutional mandated responsibilities & sacrifices owed to the oppressed peasantry masses & to themselves & families as citizens; all genuine Gambians liberation committed are behind UDP all the way until total liberation….

    Long live the Gambia….

  7. Bajaw…

    (1)…You can be stuck in your ignorance for as long as you wish. That is your prerogative but the fact of the existence of TWO ULTIMATE powers in a nation is quite easy and simple to see, for anyone with a little bit of sense.

    The calls for mass actions and an uprising to effect change are appeals made to the population to exercise PEOPLE’s POWER. This power, as common sense will tell you, will not rise against itself, but against another power, which is controlled and directed by our reps, and that power is STATE POWER..It does not make sense to claim that the people’s power will be used to topple the people’s power.If you cannot comprehend this simplicity, then I don’t know what to think of you.

    (2)…You are entitled to hold the views you hold about the UDP (as the real deal) and PDOIS/Halifa (as manipulative, greedy & materialistic and what have you) but I hope you understand and respect the fact that others hold different views to yours..That is the essence of democracy: DIVERGENCE AND RESPECT FOR DIVERGENCE.

    But whilst it seems acceptable to this medium (Kaironews) to pass your comments that brand Halifa as selfish and a liar into publication, you should understand that others hold similar views about your party of choice and leader, and just because they are censored and don’t get published doesn’t mean that they don’t exist..

    Despite your slander against Halifa, the truth cannot be masked or distorted and the incontrovertible truth is that Halifa has not done anything that he has not been doing for the past 20 years and therefore, charges of selfishness against him are unjustified and false..

    He has been a very consistent participant in the unfair political process since the first republic, whilst calling for reforms and informing our international partners about what is wrong with the system, at the same time. He has not suddenly come up with a strategy that is at odds with what he has done for three decades.

    According to the veteran politician, OJ, who is no fan of Halifa and no PDOIS disciple, the motivations for the “no elections without electoral reform agenda”, is very clear to him. He does not believe that it augurs well for their (opposition leaders) credibility to take that position, having played along with the system, under relatively the same conditions, for 20 years whilst they were all qualified to contest.

    So, I will say to you Bajaw, that Mr Halifa Sallah is not doing anything selfish by participating in the electoral process. He has been chosen by his party to represent them at the next presidential elections and he is qualified to contest.

    When Mr Sallah adopts a “NO elections without electoral reform agenda” at the next round of elections in 2021 ( when I believe he will be over age) then, and only then, could he stand accused of selfishness. But for now, that label suits others; not Halifa.

  8. Bax

    Fact of the matter is, everyone (including your very selves) acknowledges, accept, & opine to the truth when one is at the very receive end as the individual victim at the hands of injustices BUT it takes all with conscience ONLY to submit to the fact when others are the victims (instead); especially when those people (like UDP) are opponents & “perceived enemies” & also when the particular situation is against, &/ in direct conflict of the other’s (Halifa & others) interests….

    Every opposition leaderships are CONSTITUTIONALLY to defend all Gambians & human lives, transcending political boundaries; injustices for one injustices for all; Halifa if become president or opposition leader will be expected to be loyal to ALL Gambians & humanity as in the constitutional statutory provisions; this was “assumed” why Halifa confronted & protested the shameless witches hunt exercising his constitutional authority as individual citizenry & as leader…..

    Halifa exercised his peasantry power first as opinionated citizens which is the ONLY power (absolute) of State as the “employers” guided by the statutory options provided as compared to defined ruling executive privileges; Halifa then had the “ring of steel” around him as opposition leader as constitutionally incumbent sacrifices required & committed (by anyone) with acceptances of such roles (capacities) & their likes…

    It was Halifa’s civic peasantry power ONLY as person which gave the right for him, Solo & electoral reforms Nobles, April students & anybody else including those organised by the MURDEROUS kanilai KILLER & aid abets, etc to demonstrate for whatsoever….

    If flipping the coin Halifa was the one murdered instead of Solo for example scenario, he (Halifa if he could) & his family & the bunch of you won’t accept anybody’s attempt constitutional misrepresentations in “two potential powers in state” to discourage further demonstrations on Halifa & humanity’s behalf for redress because ‘it would be threatening to the readily ridged December expected kangaroo elections which are Halifa delusional interests…???

    Halifa physically confronted the witches hunt agents; solo & comrades just (only) held banners & their voices; why haven’t Halifa “asked to be slaughtered like lamb” on the (his) witches hunt protest (if I may borrow your leaf) but Solo did, like in your justification & insult to his soul & all those who have & continues to be (molested/killed) at the hands of EVIL yaya KILLER DEVIL & lots of the active & passive enablers…???

    The same goes if the direct victims were (one’s) own family & friends; the Gambia from this Dark Ages experience will not be let down by the oppressed citizenry who all before left ourselves “unguarded” previously by accepting face-values in naivety; you the disciples & your aid abetting mercenary leaderships can bank on the earthly endeavours riding on half-truths & calculated manoeuvres; tge genuine Gambians of humanity conscience will continue to rally behind UDP leadership & friends in international community & pass the batons on until total liberation….

    Long live the Gambia….