Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko announced on Sunday that he has begun a hunger strike, as a protest against his arrest on Friday. Approximately two months ago, Sonko was sentenced to two years in prison in a moral case, rendering him ineligible to run for the 2024 presidential elections. On Saturday, the public prosecutor in Senegal accused Sonko of inciting rebellion and other crimes unrelated to the moral case, which had triggered deadly protests in June.
In a social media post, Sonko expressed his determination to resist against “hatred, lies, repression, and persecution.” He stated, “I have decided to start a hunger strike (…) and call on all political detainees to do the same.” The opposition leader is scheduled to be interrogated by a judge on Monday.
During a press conference in Dakar on Sunday, Sonko’s lawyers accused the authorities of violating their client’s rights. French lawyer, Juan Branco, who attended the conference, emphasized that they are not afraid and swore to defend Ousmane Sonko, whom he described as a symbol of hope for the entire people.
Notably, Branco had filed a complaint in France and requested an investigation by the International Criminal Court on June 22 in The Hague against Senegalese President Macky Sall on charges of committing “crimes against humanity,” following the country’s worst unrest in years. The complaint also targeted Senegalese Interior Minister Antoine Felix Diome and General Moussa Fall, among others, covering the period “from March 2021 to June 2023.”
The Senegalese judiciary read out the charges against Sonko and his organization on Saturday, which were based on statements and gatherings he had participated in since 2021. The charges included “incitement to rebellion, undermining state security, affiliation with a terrorist group, conspiring against state authority, engaging in acts intended to cause serious political disturbances, and theft.”
Sonko had previously been sentenced on June 1 to two years in prison in a sexual assault case, which made him ineligible for the upcoming elections, according to his lawyers and legal experts. This conviction had triggered the most significant disturbances in Senegal in years, resulting in 16 deaths, according to the authorities, and around 30 deaths according to the opposition.
Additionally, Sonko was sentenced on May 8 to six months in prison with a suspended sentence during an appeal trial on defamation charges, a penalty that experts argue would also disqualify him from running for the presidential elections. However, he has not yet exhausted his right to appeal before the Supreme Court.
Ousmane Sonko refers to President Macky Sall as a “dictator,” while supporters of the incumbent leader describe him as an “instigator of chaos.” In early July, Macky Sall announced that he would not seek a third term, ending months of speculation on the matter.