Violent protests continue in Senegal after opposition politician rape charge

At least eight killed and hundreds injured in country’s worst protests in decades

Supporters of opposition candidate Ousmane Sonko call for his release in Dakar on Tuesday. Photograph: John Wessels/AFP

Supporters of opposition candidate Ousmane Sonko call for his release in Dakar on Tuesday. Photograph: John Wessels/AFP

 

At least eight people have died, hundreds been injured, and about 100 arrested as protests continue in Senegal, following a rape charge against the country’s opposition leader.

The protests are the worst the West African country of about 16 million has seen in decades, and are expected to continue through Wednesday.

Ousmane Sonko, who was arrested last week, says the accusations against him are politically motivated. He accuses President Macky Sall of attempting to discredit him ahead of the 2024 elections. “We don’t want to take responsibility for undermining our democracy,” he tweeted on Monday, clarifying he wasn’t calling for Mr Sall to be ousted. “But let’s be clear, the revolution is on the march toward 2024.”

The 46-year-old former tax inspector also said he is “plunged in thoughts and sadness” because of the people who died protesting.

Investigations

“We mourn these losses and pray for the rest of their souls,” he tweeted. “After the deaths, my thoughts also go to the injured, some of them very seriously.”

Human rights organisation Amnesty International said some of the deaths had been caused by the use of excessive force and firearms by security forces.

“We reiterate our call on the authorities to launch impartial investigations into the circumstances of these deaths, and we urge them to ensure people can safely exercise their right to peaceful assembly, as protected under the country’s constitution and international law,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty’s West Africa director, in a statement.

Opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, charged with rape, gestures as he talks to media at his party’s headquarters in Dakar on Monday after being freed from detention. Photograph: Seyllou/AFP via Getty Images
Opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, charged with rape, gestures as he talks to media at his party’s headquarters in Dakar on Monday after being freed from detention. Photograph: Seyllou/AFP via Getty Images

“The use of force by security forces must be exercised with restraint, only when necessary and in a proportional manner. Firearms must only be used as a last resort when strictly necessary to protect against the imminent threat of death or serious injury. Members of the security forces who use excessive force or unlawful lethal force must be prosecuted according to law,” she added.

On Tuesday, Mr Sall called for calm, accusing the protesters of rioting. “In the face of such incredible violence, where children and women were put, in an organised manner, on the front line in the scenes of breakage, our defence and security forces demonstrated professionalism and restraint,” said the president. “Otherwise, the toll would have been heavier.”

Death threats

The 59-year-old has been in power since 2012, and critics are worried he will attempt to change the constitution to allow himself to run for a third term.

Mr Sonko’s accuser is a masseuse who told police the politician was a client who forced himself on her. Her identity has since been shared across social media, resulting in death threats, according to her lawyer.

Last year, following a women-led campaign, the sentence for convicted rapists in Senegal was increased from a maximum of 10 years to a minimum of 10 years.