Senegal: Govt Restricts Internet As Protests Escalate

Ousmane Sonko (file photo).

Angered by opposition leader Ousmane Sonko's arrest, his supporters took part in the worst unrest seen in years in the West African country.

Unrest continued of Friday amid are mixed reports of restricted internet access in Senegal.

Senegalese police and supporters of detained opposition leader Ousmane Sonko returned to the streets following unrest on Thursday that left one person dead.

The leader of the Pastef party was arrested on Wednesday for disturbing public order ahead of his court appearance on a rape charge in the West African country.

Reports of an internet blackout

Internet monitor NetBlocks said social media and messaging apps including Facebook, WhatsApp, and Youtube had been restricted early on Friday ahead of a planned demonstration by civil society and opposition parties led by protest movement "Y En A Marre" (Enough is Enough).

"It's true that all of last night, beginning at 9 p.m. [local time, 21:00 UTC] my WhatsApp connection stopped working properly. But at the same time, I also did not experience any difficulties sending Emails," DW correspondent Robert Ade reported from capital city Dakar.

DW digital security expert Oliver Linow tweeted that the demand for so-called Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to circumvent social media platforms blocks had risen in Senegal, according to Google Trends.

He advised internet users to "only install trustworthy VPN apps" or to "use Tor" -- otherwise known as the onion router, the free software helps users conceal their location while on the internet.

Another DW correspondent, Mamadou Alpha Diallo reported no internet slowdown in Casamance region, south of the Gambia.

What happened during the unrest?

Hundreds of people followed Sonko's motorcade on Wednesday, as he traveled to a court to deny rape charges filed against him last month by an employee at a salon where he received massages.

Supporters sounded horns and sang before clashes erupted, and Sonko was arrested before even reaching the court.

Angry protesters attacked the headquarters of state-owned Le Soleil and radio station RFM on Thursday evening for their close government ties.

Authorities suspended two private television stations, Sen TV and Walf TV, for 72 hours from 5 p.m. on Thursday. Government officials accused them of "stirring up hatred and violence."

The death happened after clashes on Thursday in Bignona town in the southern Casamance region, the police official said. Four police were also injured in the fighting.

At Dakar's Cheikh Anta Diop University, students on Thursday threw concrete blocks at police.

The police responded with tear gas and stun grenades, a reporter for news agency AFP reported from the scene.

Who is Ousmane Sonko?

A 46-year-old Muslim, Sonko is frequently critical of Senegal's ruling elite andis popular with young people.

He ran against President Macky Sall in the 2019 vote but finished third in a race that delivered the incumbent a second term.

Sonko is considered a key potential challenger to Sall in elections in three years.

Presidents in the former French colony are limited to two consecutive terms, but Sall launched a constitutional review in 2016, raising suspicions he intends to run again.

Sonko maintains the charge against him is politically motivated.

Dakar residents speak to DW

"It is all so political, everything that has happened to him [Ousmane Sonko] is political," Khalifa, who only wanted to be identified by his first name, stressed to DW in Dakar.

Aicha another resident in Dakar told DW: "We cannot judge or decide what exactly happened, but his arrest will only make things worse, while there are things that are more urgent. It is developing into a case within another case. But to clarify whether there was a rape, in my opinion, remains the priority and the most important thing."

Analyst Mor Gassama said he felt the whole story was not being told: "Someone who leaves his house to answer a judge's summons should not be so provocative. They [the police] could have made it easier for him [to reach the court] with a motorcycle escort. All this gives the impression that there are things in this affair that remain unspoken."

What's next?

Sonko was scheduled to be transferred on Thursday evening to a Dakar courthouse where his case will be heard by a judge, but his lawyers said the hearing had been postponed to Friday.

The streets of Dakar were quiet early on Friday, despite the planned protests.

kmm/msh (AFP)

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