Senegal Sentences Opposition Leader to 2 Years in Prison

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

Government critic Ousmane Sonko was acquitted of rape charges but found guilty of "corrupting youth." His trial has triggered street protests in Senegal.

A Senegalese court sentenced on Thursday sentenced former presidential candidate Ousmane Sonko to two years in prison over "corrupting youth," but acquitted him of rape charges.

Sonko, who is particularly popular among younger voters, had repeatedly said the rape charges were a ploy to stop him from running for the presidency next year. He boycotted the trial proceedings, but was forcibly returned to Dakar by the police on Sunday, ahead of the verdict.

'Politically motivated' trial?

His trial, and particularly forcible return to the capital, sparked protests by his supporters, who took to the streets to denounce the charges against him. Like Sonko, his supporters argue the charges are politically motivated, which the authorities deny.

Sonko, who is president of the PASTEF-Patriots party, came third in the 2019 presidential election behind incumbent Macky Sall and former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck.

Senegal's electoral laws bar individuals convicted of criminal offenses from running for political office.

A lawyer present at the hearing told the French AFP news agency that "corrupting youth" is a lesser offense than rape. The charge refers to the act of debauching or encouraging the debauchery of a person under the age of 21.

It is not yet clear whether Thursday's hearing is sufficient to disqualify Sonko from Senegal's next election.

Sonko has also recently received a 6-month suspended sentence in a defamation case, which he vowed to appeal.

What do we know about the rape case?

The prosecution claims the 48-year-old politician sexually assaulted and made death threats against a woman who worked in a massage parlor in 2021. Prosecutors were seeking a 10-year jail term for the politician.

Sonko claims he visited the "Sweet Beaute" salon in the capital, Dakar, for a massage for chronic back pain. He denies any assault.

In court, his accuser provided details of the alleged abuse, saying she was raped five times and had received death threats.

A doctor who consulted her on the evening of the alleged event said he had found evidence of sexual intercourse.

The salon's owner, who was accused of complicity in rape, was sentenced to two years. Ndeye Khady Ndiaye had denied that any of the services provided by her former staff involved sexual acts.

(AFP, Reuters)

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