The Senegalese Minister of Justice declared that the conviction of opponent Ousmane Sonko in a morals case was “final”, which makes him ineligible for the 2024 presidential election.
Ousmane Sonko, whose power struggle with power and justice has kept Senegal in suspense for more than two years, was found guilty on June 1 of “debauchery of a minor” and sentenced to two years in prison.
Having refused to appear at the trial which he denounced as a plot to exclude him from the presidential election, he was convicted in absentia.
He has since been imprisoned at the end of July on other charges, including calling for insurrection, criminal conspiracy in connection with a terrorist enterprise, and endangering state security.
The authorities question his responsibility in a series of episodes of protest to which his standoff with power and his problems with the justice system have given rise since 2021 – the most serious in June – and which have left several dead.
Mr. Sonko’s lawyers argue that because their client has been arrested since his conviction, he must be retried. They invoke the texts in force on absenteeism.
In an interview published online Wednesday by the magazine Jeune Afrique, the Minister of Justice Ismaïla Madior Fall responds that Mr. Sonko was arrested “in the context of another affair” than the morals affair and that the rule according to which a contumax must be retried once arrested therefore does not apply.
“Why didn’t he become a prisoner if he wanted to get his conviction in absentia overturned? It has since become final,” he said.
“It is for this reason that Mr. Sonko was deprived of his electoral rights and that he was removed from the lists,” he added. “There is no cabal intended to oust a presidential candidate.”
Mr. Sonko began a hunger strike on July 30. He has been hospitalized since August 6.
The authorities announced the dissolution of his party and made hundreds of arrests, prompting strong criticism from human rights defenders. The government cites the need to protect the population against what it presents as an insurrectional project.
The minister puts the number of people detained in connection with the unrest that occurred in 2023 at “around 500”.
“Those behind bars have damaged stores or banks, attacked gendarmerie brigades or even set fire to town halls.” “There are no political prisoners in Senegal,” he said.