The Gambia’s President, Yahya Jammeh, is set to clinch a fifth term in office in next month’s election.
Human Rights Watch in a report on Wednesday however said intimidation of opposition parties, media repression and politicised security forces have “all but extinguished” the chance of a free and fair election.
The “climate of fear among many opposition politicians and activists… severely limits their ability to criticise Jammeh and his government,” said the report, entitled “More fear than fair”.
The Guardian UK reports that since April, activists with the main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) have been arrested during peaceful protests and at least two have died in custody, while several more are serving three-year jail sentences for holding demonstrations.
These arrests ran in tandem with increasing suppression of free speech and the demand of absolute loyalty to Jammeh by the security forces, Human Rights Watch said.
“The security forces are his tools, and he uses them to control Gambia by arresting people who don’t share his views,” a prominent opposition figure told the rights group.
Furthermore, the president’s Alliance for Patriotic Re-Orientation and Construction (APRC) “routinely used state resources for campaigning… and have mobilised civil servants and security force members to act on behalf of his re-election,” the report said.
The opposition was limited to a two-week campaigning period in November, “the only time” state media reported on their activities.
The government has long been accused of intimidating and arbitrarily arresting journalists, and as a result many “temper their reporting of the government to avoid reprisals,” according to the report.