Freedom in the World
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Congo, Republic of (Brazzaville)
Freedom in the World Scores
The Republic of Congo’s political rights rating declined from 6 to 7 due to the election of President Denis Sassou-Nguesso to a third term through a deeply flawed process, after a 2015 constitutional referendum lifted presidential term and age limits.
President Sassou-Nguesso has maintained power for more than three decades by severely repressing the opposition. Corruption and decades of political instability have contributed to extreme poverty for most of the population. Abuses by security forces are frequently reported.
- President Denis Sassou-Nguesso secured a third term in a March poll marked by the intimidation of opposition figures and journalists, an election-day shutdown of mobile and internet services, and claims of electoral fraud.
- The government responded to violent protests against the election results with air strikes in the southeast of the country, which targeted the leader of a militant group authorities blamed for the violence. The attacks killed more than two dozen people and damaged churches, schools, and medical facilities.
In March 2016, President Sassou-Nguesso won a third term in the first round of presidential polling, with 60 percent of the vote. Sassou-Nguesso’s candidacy had been enabled by the approval of a controversial 2015 constitutional referendum that removed age and term-limit restrictions on the presidency. The referendum had been marred by deadly violence and intimidation.
Opposition figures dismissed the subsequent 2016 presidential election as fraudulent, and the European Union (EU) and U.S. echoed concerns about the poll’s credibility. In addition to allegations of widespread vote rigging, police had repeatedly summoned the main opposition candidate, retired General Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, for questioning ahead of the election. Additionally, mobile phone and internet services were cut off the day of the poll in what observers described as a means of preventing the spread of information about voter turnout and suspected electoral fraud. There were multiple reports of the intimidation of journalists by authorities during the election period.
In early April, after the results were released, antigovernment protests erupted in Brazzaville, during which some participants barricaded certain neighborhoods and set several government buildings on fire. Armed actors eventually clashed with government forces, and more than dozen people were killed in the unrest. In response, the government launched airstrikes in the southeastern Pool region in an attempt to attack the leader of an armed group known as the Ninjas, which had fought against the government in the country’s 1997–99 civil war and which was blamed for the Brazzaville violence. Some 30 people were reportedly killed and schools, churches, and medical facilities were damaged.
Opposition figures faced repression following the polls. In April, security forces surrounded Mokoko’s home, preventing him from leaving, and in June he was charged with jeopardizing national security and possessing weapons illegally. In July, opposition leader Paulin Makaya of the United for Congo (UPC) party was sentenced to two years in prison following his arrest on charges of inciting disorder over his participation in protests against the 2015 constitutional referendum.
The president’s family and advisers effectively control the state oil company. The Panama Papers, a trove of documents leaked from a Panama-based law firm and unveiled by media organizations in April 2016, revealed the existence of offshore companies controlled by close associates of the president allegedly used to embezzle public funds from the company. Despite being one of sub-Saharan Africa’s largest oil producers, corruption and decades of political instability have contributed to extreme poverty for most of the population.
This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in the Republic of Congo, see Freedom in the World 2016.