At least nine people have been killed in protests in Senegal’s capital Dakar and other cities, following the sentencing of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko on Thursday to two years in prison, which could jeopardize his chances of running in next year’s presidential race.
The court found Sonko guilty of “corrupting youth,” according to state media, but cleared him of other charges, including rape.
Sonko, 48, didn’t attend Thursday’s hearing and remained at his home, but following the verdict he can be arrested any time.
The former tax inspector who came third with 15% of the vote in the 2019 presidential election can appeal the ruling within 15 days, but his chances of participating in next year’s election now seem slim, if possible at all.
Government spokesman Abdou Karim Fofana said authorities were working to maintain order in the disturbed cities, while Interior Minister Antoine Felix Abdoulaye Diome said in a press conference late Thursday that social media and messaging apps had been restricted to “limit fake news.”
Nteblocks confirmed the restriction of social media apps such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.
Sonko’s political party PASTEF (Patriots of Senegal for Ethics, Work and Fraternity), said the verdict was politically motivated as he is challenging President Macky Sall’s government.
The party urged its supporters to “stop all activity and take to the streets.”
Sonko’s trial had fueled deadly protests in the country since it started in 2021, with his supporters accusing President Sall, who’s reportedly mulling a third term bid, of attempting to undermine him.
Sall, first elected in 2012 for a seven-year term in office was reelected for a second term of five years in 2019, after a 2016 referendum approved shorter presidential terms.
His silence on whether or not he would seek a third term has ignited an already tense political climate, where critics accuse him of doing little about employment and cracking down on the opposition.