Jailed Senegal Opposition Leader Sonko Cleared by Court to Run in Presidential Race

Harare — A Senegalese court ruled that opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, who is currently imprisoned, be added back on the electoral roll, Al Jazeera reports.

This decision may allow Sonko, to run for president in February, 2024.

Over the previous two years, Sonko faced legal proceedings that included allegations of rape and libel – both of which he denies.

Although the 49-year-old was cleared of rape, he was found guilty of an offense classified as immoral behaviour against people under the age of 21, and was sentenced to two years imprisonment.

After his arrest in July on charges of rebellion, his name was removed from the election candidates list, which may have prevented him from running in the February 2024 election. Sonko’s party, the Patriots of Senegal (PASTEF) was also disbanded for inciting disorder in Dakar. The ruling on the party was reversed on December 14, his attorney Cire Cledor Ly reportedly said.

Sonko, who is still behind bars, also went on a hunger strike on July 3, 2023 to draw attention to what he called the political oppression by the government. He was hospitalised on August 6 and admitted to an intensive care unit, according to his lawyers and party. He called off his hunger strike in September.

Among other charges, Sonko was accused of defamation and public insult of Minister Mame Mbaye Niang for which he received a six-month suspended sentence.

Amnesty International, after collecting testimonies and documenting the deaths that took place during the demonstrations in Dakar, called on the Senegalese authorities to immediately carry out an independent and transparent investigation into the deaths of at least 23 people, including three children, during the violent demonstrations on June, 1 and 2, 2023, and to shed light on the presence of armed civilian personnel operating alongside the security forces.

Many believe that the judiciary is preoccupied with silencing opponents of the government rather than examining alleged financial crimes against members of the presidential camp. Sall, elected president in 2012 and 2019, is constitutionally limited to two terms.

Despite this, his supporters argue that the 2016 Constitutional change reset his term count, positioning him to run in the 2024 presidential polls.

Sonko finished third in the 2019 presidential race in Senegal, and is well-liked by young people. He is viewed as the leading rival in the contest to replace President Macky Sall, who said in July that he would not seek re-election.

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