Opposition leader banned from Senegalese election

Sonko has been entangled in legal battles since 2021, hindering his presidential ambitions for the February 25th vote.

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FILE PHOTO: Ousmane Sonko gives a speech during a campaign rally in Pikine, on the outskirts of Dakar, Senegal February 21, 2019. REUTERS/ Zohra Bensemra/File Photo

Senegal’s Supreme Court has delivered a setback to opposition figure Ousmane Sonko, dismissing his appeal against a libel conviction and further undermining his aspirations to participate in the upcoming presidential election scheduled for next month, as reported by attorneys. Sonko, aged 49, has been entangled in legal battles since 2021, hindering his presidential ambitions for the February 25th vote.

These legal challenges have not only impeded his political plans but have also contributed to unrest, tarnishing Senegal’s image as one of West Africa’s most stable democracies.

Following extensive deliberations that spanned from Thursday into the early hours of Friday, the court upheld Sonko’s May conviction, resulting in a six-month suspended sentence for libel, a decision that, according to Senegalese law, renders him ineligible to participate in the presidential race as long as the conviction stands.

Sonko’s legal team, however, stressed that this setback is not conclusive. “The fight will persist,” affirmed his team of lawyers outside the court building in Dakar, the capital.

Despite the ruling, there was no immediate indication of public protests in response to the decision.

Sonko’s legal troubles originated with rape accusations in 2021, leading to nationwide unrest and subsequent sporadic flare-ups following various court rulings. Maintaining his innocence, Sonko contends that all charges against him are politically motivated, a claim rejected by the government, which accuses him of inciting violence. In July, his party, PASTEF, was dissolved.

Commenting on the recent ruling, PASTEF spokesperson El Malick Ndiaye highlighted the political nature of the case, asserting, “No one doubts the political aspect of this affair, which aims to eliminate the leader of the opposition.” Ndiaye insisted that “Sonko still remains in the race,” expressing this sentiment on national radio.

Having secured the third position in Senegal’s 2019 presidential election, Sonko is considered a formidable potential contender in the race to succeed President Macky Sall, who is stepping down after completing two terms. Sonko submitted his candidacy while in custody last month after a court ordered his reinstatement on the electoral register. He had been removed from the list following his arrest in July on insurrection charges, and he has remained in detention since then.

The electoral commission of Senegal is currently reviewing applications and is expected to release the final list of approved presidential candidates by January 20.

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