Thousands have gathered for violent demonstrations in Senegal this past week, following the arrest of Ousmane Sonko, a key opposition leader. On March 3rd, the President of PASTEF, the “Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics, and Fraternity,” was arrested on accounts of participating in unauthorized protests as well as disrupting public order. This follows investigations against Sonko, who is currently facing allegations of rape, which Sonko claims are part of means of political sabotage against his campaign.
“There’s suspicion that [current President] Macky Sall is using the judiciary to marginalize his political opponents, but not using the judiciary to pursue legitimate corruption cases that involve his allies,” Geoff Porter, the president of North Africa Risk Consulting, explains. However, this is especially concerning based on Sall’s previous campaigns, in which his political opponents were similarly and timely arrested ahead of elections. Other rights and liberty associations have claimed that these democratic contestations may enable Sall to make constitutional amendments to impose a third term, causing more concerns for democratic governance in Senegal.
Crowds of Sonko’s supporters confronted the police in the capital city, Dakar, on March 8th. It was reported that armed riot police shot rubber bullets, tear gas, and even live bullets at protesters and arrested at least 100 people during this encounter. According to reports by Amnesty International, at least 8 people have been killed during the clash between protesters and national security forces and injured several hundred more. Further, continuous protests have caused significant destruction in the country, leaving many infrastructures and services of Senegal at a standstill, and causing concerns for increasingly inadequate living conditions, especially amidst the current pandemic.
Many international leaders, including the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel and the UN Human Rights Council, have condemned both state-sanctioned violence and government shutdowns or internet restrictions as legitimate concerns threatening democracy. This also follows concerns of Constitutional infringements against Senegalese citizens by denying the rights to freedom of assembly and expression as well as protection against excessive use of force by law enforcement officials.
Another consideration from this conflict is a concern that rape allegations may discourage victims from stepping forward in Senegal. Especially in the context of heavy backlash and claims of falsehood against these allegations, there is a serious diminishment of the gravity of sexual assault crimes that could set a dangerous precedent for other victims in the future.
A coalition of oppositional parties, the Movement to Defend Democracy (M2D), has called for an ensuing demonstration and demanded an apology from the leading coalitions for the violent response and lack of transparency. There is a growing concern for this ensuing and escalating violence, in which political liberties and civic freedoms are at stake if these protests continue. The next steps through this conflict are vital turning points for the political developments of the country and should be dealt with great caution.
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