Senegal shuts down social media as protesters die after Sonko sentencing

Protesters run in Dakar, Senegal - June 1, 2023

Ousmane Sonko’s party called on people to “take to the streets” after the verdict

Social media and messaging platforms have been blocked in Senegal after unrest erupted following the sentencing of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.

At least nine people were killed when Sonko supporters clashed with police in several towns on Thursday.

Sonko was not in court when he was sentenced to two years in prison for immoral behavior, but was cleared of rape charges.

The justice minister said he could be arrested at any time – and police surrounded his home in the capital.

His supporters fear the conviction could bar the 48-year-old politician from standing in the presidential election next year.

Hundreds of officers are preventing his supporters from reaching his home in Dakar – and even his lawyers have been unable to visit him.

When the court delivered its verdict on Thursday, Sonko’s Pastef party called on people to “take to the streets”.

Interior Minister Antoine Félix Diome said the government had imposed restrictions on social media to stop the “spread of hateful and subversive messages”.

Several areas of the capital saw clashes – some of the worst clashes took place on the university campus in the city center where police fired tear gas as vehicles burned and black smoke billowed from the area .

Many businesses closed – and remained closed on Friday.

There has also been violence in the southern town of Ziguinchor, of which Sonko is the mayor.

Sonko is hugely popular among unemployed youth and has enjoyed a meteoric political rise in recent years.

After his dismissal as a tax inspector in 2016, he was elected deputy and became mayor of Ziguinchor.

The government has dismissed accusations that this case against the opposition leader, and others he has faced, were politically motivated.

He was accused of sexually assaulting and threatening a massage therapist at a beauty salon in 2021, which he denied.

Adding to the political tension is the belief that President Macky Sall plans to stay in power for an unconstitutional third term, although he has made no mention of such intentions.

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