At least nine people have died in Senegal in clashes between police and protesters supporting opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, following his two-year prison sentence that his supporters say was designed to prevent him from running for president of next year. The protests and clashes mainly affected the capital Dakar and the city of Ziguinchor, of which Sonko has been mayor since 2022. The nine deaths were confirmed by Senegal’s Interior Ministry, which accused the protesters of damage and violence, saying to still have the situation under control in the country.
In 2021 Sonko was accused of raping a 20-year-old woman and then threatening her with death. Sonko, who is 48 today, denied the accusations and said they were made to penalize him politically. On Thursday, June 1, the court dismissed the rape charge, but still convicted Sonko of engaging in “immoral behavior” towards a person under the age of 21, a crime in the Senegalese penal system. Sonko will be able to appeal, but only if he surrenders to the authorities, which his supporters do not want him to do.
In the previous presidential elections in 2019, Sonko had finished third, with a significant gap from the current president Macky Sall, accused by the opposition of having reduced democratic freedoms in Senegal in recent years. Already in 2021 there had been large protests when Sonko was accused of rape, starting a judicial case that lasted two years and which could have new developments in the coming months.