The Senegalese authorities must protect the right to peaceful protest and ensure the security forces refrain from using excessive force as anti-government demonstrations are planned today in the capital Dakar, Amnesty International said.
Activists and opposition parties are due to hold a demonstration outside Parliament against proposed changes to the Electoral Code and Constitution that, if passed, would require all candidates standing in next year’s presidential election to collect the signatures of one per cent of the registered voters in seven regions of the country before being validated. The authorities announced that the protest had been unauthorized on several grounds including a 2011 decree banning all assemblies in the city centre areas.
“Peaceful opposition protests in Senegal have previously been arbitrarily banned and met with unnecessary, excessive force by the police. The authorities must remember that peaceful protest and freedom of expression are human rights that must be respected,” said François Patuel, Amnesty International West Africa researcher.
“That means anyone protesting in a peaceful manner must be allowed to do so without the threat of violent retribution from the security forces. A heavy-handed crackdown on demonstrations would only serve to fuel political tensions.”
The proposal has sparked a fierce public debate with some opposition and activist groups, including the prominent youth movement Y’en a Marre (Fed-up), considering the revision a violation of the Constitution.
Amnesty International has previously documented several cases where security forces have used unnecessary and excessive force to arbitrarily ban and disperse peaceful assemblies in Senegal. In June 2017, security forces shot and injured two women, and beat several others, during a protest in the city of Touba against the ill-treatment of a 14-year-old boy by members of a religious association, often described as the “religious police”.
In July 2017, security forces used tear gas and batons to repress a peaceful demonstration organized by former President and opposition leader Abdoulaye Wade.
The authorities also continue to curtail freedom of expression and target artists, journalists, human rights defenders and political activists who express dissent. On 17 April 2018, Barthélémy Dias, opposition leader and mayor of Mermoz-Sacré-Cœur, a neighbourhood of Dakar, was sentenced to six months in prison for “contempt of court” and a fine of CFA 100 000 (approximately EUR 150) after he criticized the decision of the court to sentence opposition leader and Mayor of Dakar Khalifa Sall. Sall’s sentence of five years in prison and a fine of 5 million CFA (7600 EUR) for charges of fraud of public funds raised questions about the independence of the judiciary.