Pan-African CSOs decry civic space and human rights violations in Senegal.
Pro-democracy and human rights civil society organizations in Africa are calling on the government of Senegal to urgently and unconditionally lift the restrictions imposed on the internet and access to information. Citizens who wish to demonstrate peacefully and express themselves should be allowed to do so without fear of repression or attribution by state security operatives. This is in the wake of recent protests in Senegal, following the conviction of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.
The African Election Observers Network (AfEONet), Alliance for Finance Monitoring (ACFIM-Africa), and ARTICLE 19, are urging the government of Senegal to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the excessive use of force, the loss of life, and all allegations of degrading treatment against protesters.
ARTICLE 19 is calling for the immediate release of detained demonstrators, journalists, and activists pending the end of investigations. It is further concerned about allegations of the presence, alongside security forces, of individuals in civilian clothing, who took part in the repression, subjecting protesters to inhumane and degrading treatment.
Similarly, AfEONet is concerned that the contemporary enemies of democracy in Africa today, are turning out to be the very elected leaders and parties that assumed office because their predecessors left space for them but once they got into office, they became autocratic.
Bloody repression of protests with the use of lethal weapons
At least 16 people, some of whom were shot with live bullets, have lost their lives during violent protests that began on June 1, 2023, in Dakar, Ziguinchor, and other regions of Senegal. The protests followed the conviction of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, who was sentenced to two years in prison for ‘corrupting the youth’.
In a press release, the Red Cross stated that they rescued 357 injured demonstrators, including a pregnant woman, and 36 members of the defence and security forces. A total of 78 protesters were seriously injured and have been transferred to medical facilities.
ARTICLE 19 is concerned by allegations of the presence, alongside security forces, of individuals in civilian clothing, who took part in the repression, subjecting protesters to inhumane and degrading treatment. Other allegations suggest the use of civilians as human shields by some members of the security forces. If these allegations are confirmed, it would constitute a grave violation of the principles of law enforcement and protection of protesters. We emphasise that security forces involved in maintaining order during a protest must wear distinctive signs that identify themselves as such.
Since 2021, Senegal has experienced a tumultuous political period marked by several events including the accusation of the opposition leader Ousmane Sonko of rape. The case polarised public opinion and raised political tensions in the country. The Sonko affair sparked numerous protests and civil unrest, with clashes between Sonko’s supporters and law enforcement, resulting in deaths, destruction of property, and arrests. The authorities responded by imposing restrictions on civic space, including banning certain protests.