Ousmane Sonko, the head of the opposition in Senegal, has been cleared of rape charges against a massage parlor employee and threatening to kill her, if she let it out. The court rather found guilty of corrupting youngsters.
Sonko has been given a two-year prison term by the judge. He was adjudicated in absentia, since he skipped the court hearing in the capital city of Dakar. A warrant for the politician’s arrest, hasn’t been determined yet.
According to Attorney Cire Cledor Ly, “the government wants to keep him from running in the next presidential election with this verdict.”
Sonko, a well-known figure among the youth of Senegal, finished third in the country’s 2019 presidential election. His supporters have argued that, the government is attempting to torpedo his bid for the Presidency in 2024, by using his legal problems as cover.
Sonko, who is believed to be President Macky Sall’s biggest rival, has dared the President to openly declare that he would not be contesting for a third term in government, in the coming elections.
In Senegal, corrupting the youth, is recorded as a big crime, which means employing one’s position of authority to have unfruitful conversation with the youth under the age of 21. Anyone found guilty of this crime could be punished by up to five years in jail, and a monetary penalty of up to or more than $6,000.
Sonko would not be permitted to contest in the elections the following year under Senegalese law, according to Bamba Cisse, another defense attorney.
“The conviction for corruption of youth hinders his eligibility because he was sentenced in absentia, so we can’t appeal,” said Cisse. Senegalese law experts claim the verdict can be contested in the Supreme court, but only after Sonko has served his sentence.
According to Mucahid Durmaz, senior analyst at global risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft, the verdict “cements the criticism that Sall’s government is weaponizing the Judiciary to eliminate prominent rivals that could shake his rule.”
“Despite being hailed as one of beacons of democracy in Africa, Sonko’s case demonstrates the structural issues Senegal grapples with. The court decision and the prospect of Sall’s bid for a third term in the election next year, would fuel fierce criticism around erosion of judicial independence, and democratic backsliding,” Dumaz said.
In the run-up to the trial, earlier protests have turned violent. Sonko led a “freedom caravan” from his community of Ziguinchor, where he served as the mayor, to the capital last week, where at least a person passed away and several others suffered injuries.
Bad Day For Senegal’s Democracy
Author, writer, and former ECOWAS Communication director Adama Gaye claimed that, the government had influenced the verdict. “It’s a very sad day for Senegal’s democracy. Senegal was known for dirty politics, but that is what we are witnessing now. This may usher a lot of tensions as we move towards the 2024 presidential elections,” Gaye said.
“The government is adamant about maintaining law and order. It will try to abide by the decision made by the justice and this is clearly a decision that is somehow masterminded and doctored by the government, because justice in Senegal is clearly controlled by the executive.”
Even before Sonko was found guilty and sentenced, tensions have been mounting all over the nation. Ousmane Sonko’s home, and the court were both heavily guarded, and numerous businesses were shuttered out of concern for possible violence outbreak.
However, conflicts broke out at the capital’s largest University soon after the decision was made. Police responded with tear gas as protesters threw rocks at them. One car at least caught fire.