Gambians on Friday mark 17 years since Yahya Jammeh took power in a military coup. And Amnesty International says Mr. Jammeh's presidency has been marked by enforced disappearances, killings and torture.
Campaigning for reelection this week, President Jammeh told supporters that neither November's vote nor a coup d'etat can remove him from office. Only divine intervention, he said, could end his 17 years as Gambia's leader.
Mr. Jammeh says his fourth term in office is a “foregone conclusion.” Amnesty International Deputy Africa Director Tawanda Hondora says that is because Mr. Jammeh has driven most of his political opponents into exile.
"He has hounded opposition parties from the Gambia. And those that remain in the country face a daily risk of being arrested or being harassed. People are persecuted,” Hondora.
On Friday's anniversary of the coup that brought Mr. Jammeh to power, Amnesty International released a report that says his government “ruthlessly quashes all forms of dissent.”
"Life in the Gambia for people who are perceived to belong to the opposition or journalists who have issued statements that are perceived to be critical of the authorities is quite bad. Most people end up in prison, in Mile Two prison, where they are subjected to torture. A lot of people have to flee the country, and a lot of people are currently living in exile," Hondora said.
President Jammeh has responded to criticism in the past by accusing campaigners for what he calls “so-called human rights” of trying to undermine his government. He has restricted press freedoms, saying Gambia suffers from "too much expression."
Human rights groups have pressed repeatedly for a full investigation into the killing of newspaper editor Deyda Hydara. Amnesty International calls detained journalist Ebirma Manneh a “prisoner of conscience.”
Hondora says those who oppose President Jammeh risk being picked up by security forces and never seen again.
“Some people have ended up disappeared. These are people who are arrested by the security forces and nothing is heard about them. And this extends to journalists, extends to opposition political party supporters or members, and including people in the security forces who are considered to have turned against the regime in Banjul,” Hondora said.
Hondora says the international community must bring pressure to bear on President Jammeh.
"Gambia relies on a lot of aid and does have good bilateral relations with many countries within the EU as well as the United States government. It is imperative that these governments impress upon the authorities in the Gambia to respect the civil and political rights of the citizens,” Hondora said.
Hondora says African leaders must also speak out against human rights abuses in Gambia. President Jammeh angered West African leaders earlier this year by siding with long-time Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbabgo who was forced from office by a wave of popular unrest.
Mr. Jammeh also has had a series of diplomatic incidents with Senegal and Nigeria over Iranian-made weapons impounded in Nigeria that appear to have been headed for Senegalese rebels who are armed through Gambia.