Gabon is controlled by the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG). On 30 August 2009, Ali Ben Bongo won a hotly disputed election marred by violence against opposition party members and widespread allegations of electoral fraud. The PDG holds a sizable majority in the Gabonese parliament. Titularly a republic, Gabon's government is a centralized, autocratic presidential bureaucracy where power is distributed largely through patronage. When no parliamentary assembly is in session, the president has the power to veto legislation that has been passed. He can dissolve the national assembly, call a new election, or govern by presidential decree. The police and the Defense Ministry's gendarmerie are responsible for public security. Although all ethnic groups have access to positions in government, the president's Bateke ethnic group and allied southern groups are heavily favored in positions of power, particularly in the military and the Republican Guard, which protects the president. Gabonese citizens have only limited ability to criticize or change their government. A number of opposition members were arrested arbitrarily without warrants after protesting the conduct and result of the election. Gabonese human rights activists and opposition party members claim the Gabonese military killed several dozen people in the city of Port-Gentil, an opposition stronghold, following the announcement of the election results on 2 September 2009.
The constitution and legal code prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention without warrants, and also torture and the use of excessive force. However, torture and repeated severe beatings are routinely used on detainees, usually in order to obtain confessions. Arbitrary arrests without warrants are common, as is lengthy detention without charge or trial. Mandated fair trial procedures are only irregularly observed. Opposition party members were threatened with violence during the 2009 election, and government forces attacked protestors in the capital of Libreville as well as Port-Gentil following the election in early September 2009.
Prison conditions are dangerously substandard. Severe illness or death in prison may result from incarceration, and prisoners are frequently denied access to decent food, basic sanitation, legal counsel, family members, and appropriate medical care. The judiciary and police are corrupt and inefficient; judicial decisions are heavily influenced by the government. Members of the security forces appear to have almost complete impunity if accused of involvement in extortions, beatings or unlawful killings of refugees. The security forces also harass, threaten, and extort money from noncitizen Africans working legally as market merchants, manual laborers, and domestic servants. Refugees are also discriminated against socially, economically and politically.
Privacy, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are restricted. The only daily newspaper is government-affiliated. Independent newspapers appear only irregularly and offer critical views of the government; however, they are hampered by frequent license suspensions, severe penalties for libel, and financial difficulties. The media is usually allowed to criticize members of the government, but never anything regarding President Bongo or his family. Most radio is apolitical, except for 2 government stations. According to Reporters Without Borders (RWB), coverage in the state press shows unbalanced criticism of the Gabonese opposition. Privately-owned opposition publications struggle financially, publish irregularly and staff are frequently harassed by security forces. Newspapers printed in neighbouring Cameroon are subject to government vetting before distribution. Gabon was ranked 102 out of 169 countries on RWB's 2007 Press Freedom Index.
Gabon's constitution affirms the equality of women and the gender equality and the government has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). However, there has been little or now progress in changing discriminatory laws. There are legal, social, and cultural obstacles to full equality for women. The legal code includes discriminatory wording on marriage, divorce, child custody, the minimum age of marriage, equal inheritance rights, and rights under polygamy. There is little specific legislation that can be applied to eliminate domestic violence against women. Domestic violence is illegal, but common, and police rarely intervene. Rape is also against the law but seldom prosecuted, and only limited medical and legal help is available for the victims. Female domestic workers, a number of whom are trafficked women and children, have been threatened and sexually harassed, with almost no recourse to legal help or justice.