Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh, president of Gambia, rose to power in a July 1994 military coup and was elected as President in 1996; he was re-elected in 2001, 2006, and 2011.
The metal gates lock behind Fatoumatta Sandeng as she leads the way across a small dirt yard into the concrete structure where her family of 10 sleeps on foam mattresses on the floor. This home, in a dusty town in Senegal, is where the Sandeng family has been hiding since Fatoumatta’s father, activist Solo Sandeng, was allegedly tortured to death in detention by Gambia’s secret police after they arrested him for participating in a peaceful protest on April 14.
Solo was a prominent member of the opposition United Democratic Party in Gambia. He was marching for electoral reform with youth activists near the capital, Banjul, when he was arrested. “My father and the other protesters took to the streets to demand reforms for a free and fair election that could bring a change,” says Fatoumatta. “There had been a lot of killings and illegal arrests by the government, and nothing was coming out of it because the judiciary and the media are censored. Everything that goes on in the Gambia is controlled by the government.”
Gambia’s state-sponsored intimidation could come to an end on December 1, when voters go to the polls in an election that opposition activists say is their best chance yet to oust autocratic President Yahya Jammeh, who took power through a military coup in 1994. Human rights organizations have long criticized Jammeh’s government for what they describe as the frequent use of torture, arbitrary detention and the intimidation of journalists by members of the security forces. Jammeh has won four previous elections; rights groups have described the fairness of those results as deeply compromised.