“Tensions rise in Senegal as death toll hits 15 following opposition leader’s sentence”

Demonstrators throw stones and light fires in Dakar, on June 1, 2023 during a protest. A court in Senegal on Thursday sentenced opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, a candidate in the 2024 presidential election, to two years in prison on charges of "corrupting youth" but acquitted him of rape and issuing death threats. PHOTO/ AFP

Senegal, a country with a long history of stability and peaceful transitions of power, has been rocked by an ongoing political crisis. The latest twist in this saga came when the government of Senegal sentenced opposition leader Ousmane Sonko to prison on June 1, 2023. The sentencing sparked violent protests across the country, leaving at least 15 dead and hundreds injured. .

Sonko, a 48-year-old former tax inspector, was initially charged with rape but was convicted on a lesser charge of morally “corrupting” a young woman and sentenced to two years in prison.

He claims the charges against him were a bid by the government to torpedo his political career ahead of the presidential election next year.

His conviction may take him out of the running for the 2024 poll.

Clashes between Sonko’s supporters and police broke out after the ruling on Thursday, leaving nine people dead.

The current tensions in Senegal can be traced back to the country’s recent presidential election. President Macky Sall won re-election in a vote that was marred by allegations of fraud. Opposition candidate Ousmane Sonko was one of the most vocal critics of the election and claimed that the government had rigged the results. In the lead-up to the election, Sonko emerged as one of the most popular opposition figures, drawing large crowds to his rallies and gaining momentum in the polls.

The army was deployed to the streets but fresh scuffles erupted on Friday night in parts of the capital, Dakar, and in Ziguinchor.

They left another six dead, government spokesman Maham Ka 

In June 2023, Senegal’s government arrested Sonko on charges of disturbing public order and rape. Sonko and his supporters claim that the charges are politically motivated and have accused the government of trying to silence him. His arrest sparked mass protests across Senegal, with thousands of people taking to the streets to demand his release. The government responded with a heavy-handed crackdown on these protests, which only fueled further anger and unrest.

The government has acknowledged that it has restricted access to social networks such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter in order to stop “the dissemination of hateful and subversive messages”.

Government spokesman Abdou Karim Fofana said on Friday that the violence was not fuelled by “political demands” but “acts of vandalism and banditry”.

“These are difficult times for the Senegal nation that we will overcome,” he told TFM.

Civil society in Senegal plays a crucial role in keeping the government accountable. This includes human rights organizations, journalists, and community activists who are dedicated to promoting transparency and fighting against corruption. These groups have been working to expose the government’s failings and demand accountability for its actions.

The political crisis in Senegal has had a devastating impact on the country. The death toll from the protests continues to rise, and there are reports of widespread human rights abuses by security forces. The economic impact has also been significant, with businesses shuttered and the tourism industry suffering. The violence has damaged Senegal’s reputation as a stable and democratic country, and there are fears that the situation could deteriorate further.

Senegal’s political crisis has attracted attention from around the world. International organizations such as the African Union, the United Nations, and the European Union have issued statements condemning the violence and calling for a peaceful resolution to the situation. Other African countries have also been closely watching events in Senegal, with some expressing concern about the impact on regional stability. The Senegalese diaspora has also been actively engaged in raising awareness about the situation and advocating for change.

The path forward for Senegal is unclear. The government appears to be doubling down on its crackdown on opposition, while the opposition is calling for the release of Sonko and for democratic reforms. The need for reconciliation and dialogue is critical, but it remains to be seen whether the parties can come together to find a way forward. In the meantime, it is essential to continue to monitor events in Senegal and advocate for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

The ongoing political crisis in Senegal is a significant challenge for the country and the region. The situation highlights the importance of democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights. It also underscores the need for transparency and accountability in government. At this critical juncture, it is essential that we remain engaged and informed about what is happening in Senegal and continue to advocate for peace and justice for all.

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