Ousmane Sonko, a Senegalese politician who came third in the country’s last presidential election, has made his way to court where he faces a defamation trial. His convoy was flocked by crowds of supporters Thursday morning and police officers formed barricades to keep the crowds back.
Sonko is being sued by Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang for “defamation, insult and forgery”. He also faces separate charges of rape and making death threats. Sonko has denied the charges and accused authorities of trying to silence him and his party with arbitrary
On Wednesday police fired tear gas at legislators seeking to reach him in his Dakar home amid growing political tensions. Member of Parliament Guy Marius Sagna and several other MPs who had come to support Sonko were affected. Journalists attempting to interview the MPs were also fired at with tear gas.
Sagna was hit in the right thigh and images published later on social networks showed him lying in a medical clinic, speaking to camera after receiving medical treatment.
Footage broadcast live on social networks also showed a cordon of police in riot gear barring the way to Sonko’s vehicle at the end of his street outside his home in the capital.
Sonko’s confinement comes amid growing tensions a year ahead of Senegal’s presidential election, raising fears of violence in a state reputed for stability.
Sonko, a firebrand politician who came third in the last presidential election, is expected in court Thursday after being sued by Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang for “defamation, insult and forgery”.
“He has not been able to leave his home since last night… We don’t know why, there’s no court decision placing him under house arrest,” Ousseynou Ly, spokesman for Sonko’s political party, Pastef, told AFP.
The prefect of Dakar, Mor Talla Tine, also banned a pro-Sonko demonstration planned for Wednesday afternoon.
He cited “real threats to public order” and a construction site on the chosen route.
The opposition has called for nationwide demonstrations to condemn what it calls manipulation of the justice system and arbitrary arrests.
Rallies have been authorized outside Dakar.
On Tuesday, Sonko held an authorized gathering where he told thousands of supporters that he was “ready to fight”.
In addition to the defamation lawsuit, Sonko is facing separate charges of rape and making death threats, based on a complaint by an employee at a beauty salon where he was getting a massage.
On January 18, he was referred to a criminal court on those charges.
That case has been a source of tension in Senegal for two years.
The two legal affairs could determine whether Sonko will be allowed to run in the presidential elections set for February 2024.
Sonko claims the charges are part of a plot to torpedo his chances.
He has also claimed President Macky Sall intends to override the constitution and run for a third term.
Sall, who was elected in 2012 and again in 2019, has not confirmed or denied whether he seeks a third spell in office.