Senegal’s opposition leader goes on hunger strike, lawyers slam arrest

Senegalese opposition politician Ousmane Sonko, known for his outspoken nature, announced on Sunday that he initiated a hunger strike while in custody following his arrest this week. Meanwhile, his lawyers strongly criticized the circumstances of his arrest.

On Saturday, Senegal’s public prosecutor unveiled seven additional charges against the politician, who is a prominent critic of President Macky Sall. The politician has been grappling with a series of legal issues, which he alleges are strategically designed to hinder his political involvement.

“In the face of so much hate, lies, oppression, persecution, I have decided to resist”, Sonko wrote, inviting “all political detainees” to join him on the strike.

A scheduled interrogation by a judge is set to take place on Monday.

During a press conference held in the capital Dakar on Sunday, Sonko’s lawyers stated that the authorities had not upheld his rights as expected.

At the press conference, Juan Branco, a French national, made an appearance despite Senegalese prosecutors issuing an international arrest warrant against him on July 14th.

“We came here to tell you that we were not afraid”, Branco said.

“I swear to defend a man, Ousmane Sonko, whose body carries the hopes of an entire people, and therefore, of all humanity.”

On June 22, Branco disclosed that he had lodged a criminal complaint against President Sall in France, accusing him of “crimes against humanity.” Additionally, he requested an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

His initiatives also implicated Interior Minister Antoine Felix Abdoulaye Diome and gendarmerie chief General Moussa Fall, alongside more than 100 others who are facing accusations.

The action triggered Senegal’s anger, prompting Foreign Minister Aissata Tall Sall to condemn it as “childish and puerile,” asserting that it significantly falls short of the required standard for legal scrutiny.

Case against Sonko

Sonko’s legal team further contended that his arrest on the new allegations invalidated his conviction in a high-profile moral corruption case, as he had been tried in absentia.

Under Senegal’s penal code, if defendants who were tried in absentia are apprehended within a specific limitation period, any prior conviction is automatically nullified unless they explicitly accept the sentence within ten days of their arrest.

The sentencing to two years in prison on June 1 led to violent clashes, resulting in at least 16 fatalities.

Due to the sentence, he is now ineligible to participate in next year’s presidential election.

The prosecutor clarified that the arrest on Friday and the new charges announced on Saturday are not connected to the moral corruption case.

The new charges pertain to comments he made, rallies he organized, and other incidents since 2021, encompassing an occurrence at his home on Friday that resulted in his arrest.

The charges brought against him include incitement to insurrection, undermining state security, criminal association with a terrorist organization, and theft.

On Saturday, a well-known Senegalese journalist and government critic were also arrested and have commenced a hunger strike, as confirmed by their lawyer.

Pape Ale Niang, in a live streamed video on YouTube, had spoken about Sonko’s arrest on Friday.

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