The politician has been arrested for “seducing youth”. His supporters consider the process to be politically motivated.
Violent protests erupted in Senegal following a verdict against opposition leader and presidential candidate Ousmane Sonko. At least nine people died, Interior Minister Antoine Diome said on state television that night. Most of the deaths were in the capital Dakar and in Ziguinchor in the south of the country, where Sonko is mayor.
The opposition politician was sentenced in absentia by a court in the capital Dakar on Thursday to two years in prison and a fine for “seducing youth”. Sonko therefore used his own position of power to have sex with a person under 21. In February 2021, the then 20-year-old employee of a massage parlor reported rape against the politician. The rape allegations were dropped.
Sonko sees allegations as politically motivated
Sonko denies all allegations and believes the allegations are politically motivated. His supporters also criticize the process as part of the government’s attempt to prevent Sonko from running in the 2024 presidential election.
The opposition leader is considered the biggest challenger to President Macky Sall. However, the verdict now puts his chances in question. “With this verdict, Sonko cannot run,” said one of his lawyers, citing Senegalese election law.
Stones, fires, barricades
Sonko’s party called supporters into the streets. After the verdict was announced, demonstrators in Dakar threw stones at police officers and set vehicles on fire. In some places barricades were erected. The police used tear gas. Clashes were also reported from other cities.
Home Secretary Diome said the use of social media, which protesters had used to incite violence, had been suspended. These included Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter, he said.
Sonko came third in the 2019 presidential election. He is particularly popular with the country’s youth. He was not present when his verdict was announced on Thursday.