Mass public protests marred by violent clashes between protesters and law enforcement have been noted throughout the Senegalese territory. Participants denounce a politically-motivated move to get rid of a political adversary and leader of the opposition, Member of Parliament Ousmane Sonko, who came third in the 2019 presidential elections.
It could be recalled that this crisis all started after a masseuse filed a complaint for rape and death threats on 3 February against Ousmane Sonko. This legal procedure has repercussions on the stability of the country. On Wednesday 03 March, as Sonko was on his way to answer the judge's summons, the authorities tried to prevent him from his route and imposed an itinerary he did not want to take. He was subsequently arrested for the offences of "disturbing public order and taking part in an unauthorised demonstration". In addition to the charges of rape, Sonko is now slapped with two new charges for which he has been in police custody since Wednesday 3 March 2021.
A series of arrests in many localities, often on the pretext of a ban on public gatherings because of the coronavirus pandemic, has been taking place since February. About a hundred arrests have been noted in the country. Although most of these citizens have been released, dozens of people are detained for various offences namely threatening state security, death threats against leading figures of the regime, calling for insurrection, etc. The number of arrests has risen to around 100.
It should be noted that the demonstrations are continuing this Friday 5 March. Beyond the damage of property noted during the last three days, we deplore the death of at least 4 people (mainly young people).
The internet as well as the social media have been disrupted since this morning of Friday 5th March 2020, as confirmed by the publication of the NetBlocks.org. Our own monitoring have also revealed disruptions on social media platforms.
Article 8 of the Senegalese Constitution guarantees all citizens freedoms, including the freedoms of opinion, expression, the press, association, assembly, movement, demonstration, among others. Also in Article 10, the Constitution states that everyone has the right to freely express and disseminate his or her opinions by word, pen, image and peaceful march, provided that the exercise of these rights does not undermine the honour and consideration of others or public order.
These are principles which derive their meaning from international texts and conventions. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers". As for the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, it states in Article 6 that "everyone has the right to freedom and security. No one shall be deprived of his/her freedom except on such grounds and subject to such conditions as determined by law; in particular, no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. Article 9 notes that everyone has the right to information and to express and disseminate his/her opinions within the framework of laws and regulations.
In addition to these mostly preventive arrests noted above, there has been an internet throttling in the country and an impediment to freedom of the press. When the parliamentary immunity of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko was lifted, journalists were parked and banned from the House premises. And during the demonstrations on Wednesday 3 March, they were forced to leave the theatres of operations and parked away from the unfolding of events. Worse, at least two journalists were injured. The National Broadcasting Regulatory Council (CNRA) has also implemented its threats to cut off the signal of some private news media for allegedly "incitement to violence".
All the above indicate a democratic backsliding and gives a hideous image of Senegalese democracy.
AfricTivistes strongly condemns this situation and calls on President Macky Sall and his government to address all these abuses and the consequences that will follow. AfricTivistes calls for calm and asks the judiciary to get its act together and handle this legal case which is the source of all these tensions. Due process of law should be applied without fear or favour in dealing with the allegations made against Ousmane Sonko whilst respecting the rights of all parties.
We also denounce all these preventive arrests under the guise of preserving public order. The preventive arrests, purportedly to prevent the commission of offences, are an abuse of power, illegal and illegitimate and symbolic of the decline of democracy in Senegal.
Africtivistes warns and denounces in the strongest possible terms the jamming of the signal of the two private television stations SENTV and WALFTV.
AfricTivistes warns about armed people supposedly "thugs" who are trying to unduly enforce order when it is the exclusive responsibility of the police and the gendarmerie. We believe this is a dangerous precedent for the country.
AfricTivistes calls on the authorities to respect the rights of association, information and access to information of citizens. We call on organisations concerned about press freedom to mobilise so that the right to diverse information, enshrined in the Constitution, is safeguarded and respected.
Africtivistes calls on the international community, human rights organisations, international institutions such as ECOWAS, the African Union and the United Nations to closely monitor this situation.
AfricTivists reiterates its call for calm and appeasement and remains in solidarity with the Senegalese people in the face of these worrying threats to democratic rights and gains.