Opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko waves to supporters during an opposition meeting two days before his trial in Dakar on March 14, 2023.   - 

Senegal: Ousmane Sonko’s lawyer says “battle is not lost” in overturned trial decision

By Rédaction Africanews

Senegal’s Supreme Court on Friday overturned a ruling that put jailed opposition figure Ousmane Sonko back in the running for the February 2024 presidential election, saying the case would be retried.

“The court quashes and annuls the decision of the Ziguinchor court of October 12 and sends the case back to the Dakar tribunal hors-classe” for retrial, announced Supreme Court president Ali Ciré Ba.

Last month, the court in Ziguinchor, the town where Mr. Sonko has been mayor since 2022, had overturned the removal of the opposition politician from the electoral rolls, making it possible for him to stand as a candidate in the February 2024 presidential election, in which he would be one of the main contenders.

The State appealed against this decision.

“This decision does not suit us. The case will be retried, but the sponsorship process will soon be over,” Babacar Ndiaye, one of Mr. Sonko’s lawyers, told AFP.

Countdown

Obtaining sponsorships is an essential step in the presidential candidacy, which must take place before the filing of candidacies scheduled from December 11 to 26.

However, the Ministry of the Interior has so far refused to issue Mr. Sonko with the official forms that would enable him to collect sponsorships, arguing that the Ziguinchor judge’s decision was not final.

The Supreme Court did not set a deadline for a new ruling on the case by the Dakar court. It ruled that the decision taken by the Ziguinchor judge was irregular.

Earlier in the morning, the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) in Abuja had dealt another severe blow to the candidate – who has long denounced a plot by President Macky Sall to eliminate him politically and an instrumentalized judiciary – by ruling that the State of Senegal had not violated his rights.

The case had been brought before the court by Mr. Sonko’s lawyers to challenge his removal from Senegal’s electoral rolls following a conviction in a vice case.

“The Ecowas Court of Justice has given Macky Sall (the Senegalese president) carte blanche to destroy his opponent,” said Juan Branco, one of Mr Sonko’s lawyers. “By judging as it did, dictators could now act as the State of Senegal has done, and take advantage of the Court’s jurisprudence,” said Ciré Clédor Ly, another of Sonko’s lawyers.

The hearing in Dakar opened on Friday morning in a Supreme Court that resembled an entrenched camp, protected by a heavy police presence, according to an AFP journalist.

The Supreme Court’s public prosecutor, Ousmane Diagne, had asked that “the appeal by the judicial agent of the State be rejected”, assuring that the Ziguinchor court had jurisdiction to examine Mr. Sonko’s request for reinstatement on the lists.

Arm-wrestling

Mr. Sonko’s tug-of-war with the state over a number of politico-judicial cases has kept Senegal on its toes for the past two and a half years, triggering the deadliest unrest in the country for years.

His sovereign and pan-Africanist rhetoric, his diatribes against the “state mafia”, multinationals and the economic and political stranglehold he sees exerted by the former French colonial power, have won him a strong following among the under-20s, who make up half the population. His detractors see him as an incendiary agitator.

On Thursday evening, he called for resistance, saying that the sovereignty of the Senegalese people and the “destiny of the nation” were at stake on Friday.

“We must stand up for fair, free and independent justice, for the right to live in a country without fear of being arrested and imprisoned without justification”, he declared on his social networks.

Dakar was calm late Friday afternoon. The authorities had banned motorcycle traffic and retail fuel sales.

Mr. Sonko, 49, was convicted on June 1 of debauching a minor and sentenced to two years in prison. Having refused to appear at the trial, which he denounced as a plot to keep him out of the election, he was sentenced in absentia.

He was imprisoned at the end of July on other charges, including calling for insurrection, criminal association in connection with a terrorist enterprise and undermining state security.

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