Gambia, The | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017

Gambia, The


Freedom Status: 
Not Free

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Press Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Net Freedom Status: 
Not Free

Ratings Change:

The Gambia’s political rights rating improved from 7 to 6 due to opposition candidate Adama Barrow’s victory in the December 2016 presidential election, though the incumbent, Yahya Jammeh, was refusing to step down as of year’s end.


The Gambia was ruled for more than two decades by President Yahya Jammeh and his party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC). Jammeh, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1994, oversaw a regime that showed little respect for political rights or civil liberties. Government opponents, independent journalists, and activists faced intimidation, arbitrary arrest, torture, and disappearance, while women and minorities lacked equal rights. The Gambia’s elections have been marred by violence and rigging, but the December 2016 presidential vote resulted in a surprise victory for opposition candidate Adama Barrow. Jammeh initially accepted the results before rescinding his concession days later, and it was unclear at the end of the year how the impasse would be resolved.

Key Developments: 
  • In April, the organizing secretary of the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), Solo Sandeng, was reportedly tortured to death in state custody shortly after being detained during a peaceful demonstration for electoral reform.
  • Days after Sandeng’s arrest, UDP leader Ousainou Darboe was arrested during a peaceful protest to demand transparency about the fate of Sandeng and the release of political detainees. In July, Darboe and 29 other people were sentenced to three years in prison for their roles in the protests.
  • In December, President Jammeh publicly conceded defeat to Barrow in that month’s presidential election. Jammeh soon reneged on his statement, claimed that the election was not conducted fairly, called for a new vote, and filed a petition with the Supreme Court. However, the court lacked a quorum due to outstanding vacancies, and the dispute was unresolved at year’s end.
Executive Summary: 

As the December 2016 presidential election approached, the government used violence and intimidation to suppress peaceful opposition protests calling for electoral reform. Many opposition figures were arrested and prosecuted, and at least two UDP figures—organizing secretary Solo Sandeng and local constituency official Ebrima Solo Krummah—died in government custody.

In a surprise result, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) announced that Barrow, a UDP leader supported by a coalition of opposition parties, had garnered a plurality in the election, defeating Jammeh and a third candidate to take the presidency. After initially accepting the outcome, Jammeh reversed himself and called for a new election, filing a challenge with the Supreme Court that remained pending at year’s end.

Throughout the year, the Jammeh regime continued to curtail freedom of expression, in part by enforcing restrictive laws on sedition. Teranga FM radio director Alagie Abdoulie Ceesay, who had been detained on sedition charges in 2015, escaped from government custody in April 2016 and was later convicted in absentia.

The authorities similarly disregarded freedom of association and the rule of law during the year, arbitrarily detaining a number of activists in addition to those involved in the opposition protests. One such activist, trade union leader Sheriff Dibba, died in state custody in February. Jammeh also continued to denounce LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people.

Aggregate Score: 
Freedom Rating: 
Political Rights: 
Civil Liberties: 

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Gambia, The

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