A slap on the wrist

Senegal: Opposition leader Ousmane Sonko released under judicial supervision

By Manon Laplace

Posted on March 10, 2021 10:32

Firefox_Screenshot_2021-03-09T16-37-36.594Z Deputy Ousmane Sonko in the middle of his supporters, 3 March 2021, before being arrested for “disturbing public order.” © Seyllou / AFP
Deputy Ousmane Sonko in the middle of his supporters, 3 March 2021, before being arrested for “disturbing public order.” © Seyllou / AFP

Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko was arrested on 3 March while on his way to answer a summons at the courthouse in Dakar, as part of an investigation opened against him following an allegation of rape.

On 8 March, lawyers told us that he would now be “going home.” Taken to court early in the morning, Sonko appeared before senior judge Samba Sall, who charged him but decided to release him and place him under judicial supervision “with certain conditions.”

Freedom under conditions

Sonko must surrender his passport to the authorities and will have to ask for the judge’s permission if he wishes to travel. According to his lawyer Joseph Etienne Ndione, the leader of Patriotes du Sénégal pour le Travail, l’Éthique et la Fraternité (Pastef) will also have to appear before the judge every last Friday of the month. In addition, he will have to make himself available to investigators, should the judge decide to refer his case to the police or gendarmerie.

Furthermore, “since he is free to continue to express himself as a political opponent”, Sonko is forbidden to speak about the rape case against him with the press or in public.

APTOPIX Senegal Protests © Demonstrators shout slogans in front of riot policemen during a protest against the arrest of opposition leader and former presidential candidate Ousmane Sonko, Senegal, Monday, March 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

A “gesture of appeasement”?

While Dakar and several cities in the country have been the scenes of violent clashes since the opposition leader’s arrest, the Mouvement de défense de la démocratie (M2D), which brings together opposition political parties and civil society movements, called for three days of mass protests throughout the country starting on 8 March. At least eight people were killed since the riots began.

“We already feel a sense of appeasement with regards to the court, where people are gloating. Had Ousmane Sonko been further detained, there is no doubt that the clashes would have resumed,” says Ndione. “The judicial authorities, perhaps even state authorities, examined the situation and opted for peace.” Several figures of the protest, arrested before or on the sidelines of the demonstrations, are still imprisoned.

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