Senegal: Opponent Sonko Denounces His Arrest As National Dialogue Opens

Protesters run from tear gas in Dakar, Senegal, March 30, 2023.

Opposition leader Ousmane Sonko has alleged that he was being "illegally held" in his home in Dakar by security forces and urged the public to protest. Meanwhile, a national dialogue between the government and various political actors has begun in the Senegalese capital.

Senegal opposition leader Ousmane Sonko broke his silence after his recent arrest, and said on Tuesday morning that he felt he had been "kidnapped" by the security forces. He also called on his compatriots to protest against the current regime using social media.

Sonko was arrested on Sunday while leading supporters from his native Zighinchor, in Casamance, towards the Senegalese capital, Dakar.

On Monday, protesters clashed with security forces in Dakar, burning cars and building barricades to protest the treatment of the opposition leader, according to RFI's correspondent Charlotte Idrac.

The Senegalese branch of the human rights group Amnesty International posted on Twitter on Sunday that "the restrictions imposed on Ousmane Sonko's freedom to come and go, without notification, are illegal and must end," calling on authorities to follow the rule of law.

Political tension is still high as Sonko's supporters are ready to protest, and a national dialogue between the government and the various political / civil society actors is to begin later today [ 31, May] Wednesday, in Dakar.

Unauthorised march?

His arrest abruptly ended Sonko's cross-country march.

Interior Minister Antoine Diome, spoking on Senegalese Radio and Television (RTS) said that Sonko should have requested authorisation before organising his "freedom caravan".

He added that Sonko had not been arrested, but rather "dropped off" at his Dakar home.

For Sonko and his opposition party, the arrest underlines President Macky Sall's intentions to run for a third mandate, which Sonko has denounced. He's been calling his supporters to protests against the current government.

Rape charges and risk of ineligibility

Sonko, however, is facing a rape trial, which could result in him being ineligible to run in next year's presidential election.

Last Wednesday, a prosecutor called for a 10-year prison sentence.

Sonko, 48, has been charged with rape and making death threats against an employee of a beauty salon in Dakar. Adji Sarr, 20, said she had been abused five times by Sonko.

Sonko described Saar as a "young girl who has been manipulated, promised a diplomatic passport and exile abroad, as well as large sums of money," a "poor young lady who is not so innocent, as she could have retracted her statement a long time ago."

The decision on Sonko's sentence is expected tomorrow, 1 June, triggering more fears of violence.

Controversial new mandate

The president of Senegal, Macky Sall, is believed to be considering a run for a third presidential term, in the next election scheduled for February 2024.

The Senegalese Constitution, changed in 2016, states that "no one may serve more than two consecutive terms".

But the Minister of Justice has decided that his "first term is that from 2019 to 2024".

He argues that the 2016 constitutional revision reset the counters and therefore "erased" Macky Sall's first term starting in 2012.

YAW, the opposition coalition, which includes the left-leaning Pastef party founded by Sonko in 2014, believes that a third term would be unconstitutional.

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