Senegal opposition figure Sonko charged and detained: lawyer


Published: 2023-08-01 10:31

Last Updated: 2024-05-25 10:12

Senegal opposition figure Sonko charged and detained: lawyer
Senegal opposition figure Sonko charged and detained: lawyer

Leading Senegalese opposition figure Ousmane Sonko on Monday was charged with fomenting insurrection and his party dissolved, prompting clashes between protesters and police.

Sonko, a presidential candidate and President Macky Sall's fiercest critic, has faced a string of legal woes, which he claims have been designed to keep him out of politics.

His sentencing in absentia to two years in prison last month in a moral corruption case sparked clashes that left 16 dead according to the government, 24 according to Amnesty International, and 30 according to Sonko's PASTEF party.

But he had not been jailed despite that sentencing.

On Friday he was arrested on new allegations tied to comments he has made, rallies he has held, and other episodes since 2021.

The new charges include undermining state security, criminal association with a terrorist body, disseminating false news and theft.

"I have just been unjustly placed in custody", 49-year-old Sonko wrote on Facebook on Monday afternoon.

"If the Senegalese people, for whom I have always fought, abdicate and decide to leave me in the hands of Macky Sall's regime, I will submit, as always, to divine will", he said.

Less than two hours after Sonko's indictment, the interior minister announced that PASTEF would be dissolved for having "frequently" called for insurrection, leading to destruction and the loss of life.

The party slammed the move, saying in a statement sent to AFP that the country's stability was "now compromised", attacking the "anti-democratic" move to dissolve the party.

Sporadic clashes broke out on Monday evening in the suburbs of Dakar, AFP journalists saw.

The demonstrators burned tyres and set up roadblocks while chanting "Free Sonko", before being dispersed by police with tear gas.

- 'Farce' -

Senegal's public prosecutor said Saturday that this new legal affair had "nothing to do" with the high-profile moral corruption case for which Sonko was sentenced on June 1.

That verdict makes him ineligible to contest next year's presidential election.

But his lawyers have argued that his arrest on Friday canceled his conviction in the moral corruption case, because he had been tried in absentia.

"It's a farce," Cire Cledor Ly, another of Sonko's lawyers, told reporters outside the courthouse on Monday.

"It's a plot that was formed, thought out, planned and executed."
Sonko on Monday continued a hunger strike he began a day earlier, his lawyers said.

They said there was no limit to his detention time as the new charges are criminal.

"The judge can retain him until the case is heard", Babacar Ndiaye, one of the lawyers, said.

Sonko was arrested on Friday after claiming on social media that security forces had been filming him outside his house and that he had snatched one of the phones to ask them to delete it.

Earlier on Monday, authorities announced they were restricting mobile internet access due to "hateful and subversive" messages on social media.

The company operating the fast train link between Dakar and its suburbs also said it would halt the line due to "malicious acts" committed by protesters.

"This time I think it's over for Sonko," Sidiya Tall, 34, told AFP. "The young people will certainly go out, but they can't do anything about it."

- 'Resist oppression' -

Sonko had called, a day earlier, on Senegalese people to "stand up" and "resist... oppression".

The internet was restricted for six days during the unrest in early June.

Amnesty International condemned the internet restrictions, calling them an "attack on freedom of information".

In Ziguinchor, the major southern city of which Sonko is mayor, clashes broke out Monday between his supporters and the police, an AFP journalist reported.

Groups of young people threw stones at police, who tried to disperse them with tear gas canisters, the journalist said.

A former civil servant, Sonko rose to prominence in the 2019 presidential election, coming third.

He has portrayed Sall as a would-be dictator, while the president's supporters say Sonko has sown instability.

Sall in early July eased tensions in the normally stable West African nation by announcing he would not seek a controversial third mandate, following months of ambiguity and speculation about his intentions.