Nine people were killed Thursday in Senegal in the violence that erupted after the sentencing to two years in prison of the opponent Ousmane Sonko, candidate for the presidential election of 2024 and more than ever threatened with ineligibility.
"We have noted with regret violence that has led to destruction of public and private property and, unfortunately, nine deaths in Dakar and Ziguinchor," Interior Minister Antoine Diome said in a short message broadcast by national television overnight. He also confirmed that the authorities had restricted access to social networks, which was found, for example, for Facebook, WhatsApp or Twitter.
"Having noted on social networks the dissemination of hateful and subversive messages, the State of Senegal in full sovereignty has decided to temporarily suspend the use of certain digital applications," he said. He called for calm and assured that the state was taking "all necessary security measures".
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Internet monitoring service Netblocks said it was observing a "situation (that) resembles that observed in 2021". Senegal was then plagued by deadly riots, which an arrest by Sonko had already helped to trigger.
Ousmane Sonko, third in the 2019 presidential election and the fiercest opponent of President Macky Sall, was sentenced Thursday by a criminal chamber to two years in prison for "corruption of youth", an offense that consists of promoting the "debauchery" of a young person under 21 years old. He was accused of rape and death threats against an employee of a beauty salon where he was going to be massaged between 2020 and 2021. The employee, Adji Sarr, was under 21 years old at the time of the facts she denounces.
The court acquitted Sonko of charges of rape and death threats. The issue was as much criminal as political. The decision seems, in view of the electoral code, to lead to the ineligibility of Ousmane Sonko. The latter was absent at the delivery of the judgment, as well as at his trial. He is presumed to be blocked by security forces at his home in the capital, "kidnapped" according to him.
But after two years of a confrontation with the authorities that has kept the country in suspense, he can now be arrested "at any time", Justice Minister Ismaila Madior Fall told reporters. Without waiting for such an arrest, the unrest feared before the deliberation broke out in Dakar and several cities.
The riots broke out before the verdict was announced. (Guy Peterson/AFP) AFP or licensors
The University of Dakar has taken on the air of a battlefield. Groups of youths confronted the police with stones and responded with tear gas. Several buses from the medical school, the history department and the country's main journalism school were set on fire and offices ransacked. Outside these hotbeds of violence, the streets of Dakar have been deserted.
Clashes and looting of public property, shops and petrol stations were reported in Dakar and its suburbs, but also in Ziguinchor (south), where several people were killed, in Mbour and Kaolack (west) or Saint-Louis (north).
Ousmane Sonko has continued to deny the accusations by shouting at the machination of power to remove him from the presidential election. "This verdict on order is the final stage of the plot hatched by Macky Sall and his henchmen," Sonko's party, Pastef, said in a statement, calling on Senegalese to "take to the streets" and the police to join them.
"Incitement to debauchery"
The owner of the beauty salon Sweet Beauté, Ndèye Khady Ndiaye, was also sentenced to two years in prison for incitement to debauchery, but acquitted of complicity in rape. "We are satisfied with Sonko's guilt," El Hadji Diouf, Sarr's lawyer, told reporters. But 20 million FCFA (30,000 euros) in damages is little for the "suffering" she has endured, he lamented.
Sonko's eligibility is already compromised by a recent six-month suspended prison sentence for defaming a minister. "Let all Senegalese know: Ousmane Sonko can no longer be a candidate," said one of his counsel, Bamba Cissé.
Since February 2021 when the case of alleged rapes hit the headlines, Ousmane Sonko has been engaged in a showdown with the government for his judicial and political survival.