Opposition leader Ousmane Sonko is calling on Senegalese to rise up "as one man" against the government in the run-up to a crucial verdict against him in a rape case that subjugates public opinion ahead of the presidential election and sows violence again in Dakar.
I call on all Senegalese to come out massively, "said in the night from Monday to Tuesday on social networks Ousmane Sonko. He said he was "sequestered" at home by security forces after being arrested on Sunday and brought back to the capital.
Let everyone stand up as one man because strength must remain with the people," he added. Ousmane Sonko, declared candidate for the presidential election of 2024 but threatened with ineligibility, the most restive opponent of President Macky Sall, urged a "national resistance movement" against the latter's attempts to establish a dictatorial regime according to him.
Since Sunday, a massive police deployment has blocked the streets giving access to his house. Groups of youths and security forces clashed with rocks and tear gas on Monday in nearby neighborhoods and around one of the main roads through the metropolis. Young people attacked the homes of the president's aides, torched vehicles and buses and destroyed urban equipment, media reported.
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It is yet another bout of fever around Ousmane Sonko, and the tension threatens to increase further by Thursday. A criminal chamber in Dakar is expected to say that day, unless postponed, whether or not it finds Ousmane Sonko guilty or not of rape committed between 2020 and 2021 on a masseuse of a beauty salon in the capital, and death threats.
The prosecutor requested against the third of the 2019 presidential election and president of the Pastef party ten years in prison for rape, or at least five years in prison for "corruption of youth". Rape, criminalized since 2020, is punishable by ten to 20 years in prison.
Criminal and political issues
The issue is as much criminal as it is political. Ousmane Sonko, 48, risks losing his eligibility, already compromised by a recent six-month suspended prison sentence for defamation of a minister. He has constantly protested his innocence and cried conspiracy hatched by the president, who denies it.
Since the complaint of Adji Sarr, employee of the salon Sweet Beauté, in February 2021, Ousmane Sonko is engaged in what some call a Mortal Kombat, named after a video game, for his judicial and political survival and against Macky Sall.
Twenty civilians were killed in unrest largely related to his situation. The government and the camp of Ousmane Sonko blame each other. Ousmane Sonko accuses the government of wanting to eliminate him politically and of repressing dissent. The presidential camp accuses OusmaneSonko of using the street for a private matter, and of inciting insurrection. Authorities reported three deaths in Dakar and elsewhere in violence related to his trial.
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Ousmane Sonko decided not to appear, saying he feared for his safety and questioned the impartiality of a justice instrumentalized according to him. A conviction in absentia could mean the disqualification of his electoral rights. Entrenched in Ziguinchor (south), city of which he is mayor, protected from possible arrest by roadblocks of determined young supporters, he decided to return Friday to Dakar and demonstrate his popularity.
The procession drew crowds of young people. But it also gave rise to new confrontations with the gendarmes. The authorities, citing the death of a man and the disturbance of public order, finally had him arrested on Sunday and taken home by the gendarmes.
Ousmane Sonko assured in the night that he had decided anyway to return, his objective having been "largely achieved", and to protect his team, likely to be "decimated". "Once in Dakar, I was kidnapped," he said. "In the name of what, in a country that claims to be democratic, we can kidnap a citizen who is wrong only to be a firm and fierce opponent of the regime (of President) Macky Sall, without any judicial subbasement," he asked.
Adji Sarr's complaint has temporarily put the issue of rape in a public square where it is willingly ignored. The complainant was attacked and threatened on social media. But she has always called for justice and maintained her accusations at trial.