Ousmane Sonko: Senegal courts hit opposition leader’s presidential hopes

This photograph taken on August 19, 2023 at Place de la Republique in Paris shows supporters of the detained Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko holding a placard demanding his release.
Image caption,The libel conviction prevents Sonko from contesting the presidential election

By Wycliffe Muia

BBC News

Senegal’s Supreme Court has dismissed opposition leader Ousmane Sonko’s appeal against a libel conviction, potentially ruling him out of next month’s presidential election.

He has been seen as a strong possible challenger in the race to succeed President Macky Sall, who is stepping down after two terms.

But another court has rejected his application to stand, his lawyer said.

Sonko has faced several court cases since 2021, all of which he denies.

On Friday, Sonko’s lawyer, Cire Cledor Ly, said he had been told by the Constitutional Council that his client’s application to run for president was “incomplete” without it being specified what was missing.

He called the move an “electoral farce” and said Sonko, currently in jail on charges of insurrection, would appeal.

Last month, there was good news for Sonko when a court ordered his reinstatement on the electoral roll.

This had been seen as potentially paving the way for him to contest the poll after he had previously been barred following a conviction in a different case.

In June last year, he was cleared of rape but convicted of “corrupting” a massage parlour employee in 2021.

He says he is a victim of a campaign to prevent him standing for president. But the government accused him of stoking violence and dissolved his party in July last year.

In May last year, the Court of Appeal sentenced Sonko to six months in prison for defaming Minister of Tourism Mame Mbaye Niang.

After about 12 hours of hearing, the Supreme Court early on Friday rejected Sonko’s appeal against the libel conviction.

According to electoral regulations, the conviction disqualifies Sonko in the 25 February presidential race.

His repeated arrests over the past two years have sparked several bouts of deadly unrest in one of West Africa’s most stable democracies.

The Constitutional Council http://masurip.org/ is set to publish a final list of cleared presidential candidates on 20 January.

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