Several Senegal opponents released from prison amid political crisis

AFP , Thursday 15 Feb 2024

Several government opponents were released from prison in Senegal on Thursday, two lawyers told AFP, amid a political crisis that has gripped the country since the presidential election was delayed.

File photo: Gendarmes clean up burnt fires from a road after clashes with police on the sidelines of a protest against a last-minute delay of presidential elections in Dakar. AFP


Some move by President Macky Sall to appease public opinion had been expected after deadly protests and international concern erupted following his decision earlier this month to delay the election slated for February 25.

Three people have been killed during demonstrations, with security forces repressing attempts to mobilise.

Opposition and civil society groups have issued new calls for demonstrations on Friday.

A peaceful march organised by a civil society collective is planned for Saturday.

"Most of my clients in politically motivated cases have been released," lawyer Cheikh Koureissy Ba told AFP, adding that this concerned several dozen detainees.

A list of several released opponents was given to AFP by another lawyer, Moussa Sarr.

The list included Aliou Sane, the coordinator of the citizens' opposition movement "Y'en a marre" (I'm fed up), Djamil Sane, the mayor of a Dakar neighbourhood, and several members of the dissolved opposition party Pastef -- which is headed by opposition figurehead Ousmane Sonko.

International pressure

"As a result of international pressure, President Macky Sall is ordering some releases," said Souleymane Djim, a member of the Collective of families of political prisoners.

Sonko -- who is one of Sall's leading opponents -- and his second in command, Bassirou Diomaye Faye have been detained since 2023.

There is currently no news of their possible release.

Outside Rebeuss prison in the capital Dakar, some 50 people waited for the detainees to be released.

"I'm waiting for the release of a friend, a brother called Mbaye. He was arrested on August 1 and has been in prison for six months," Khadim Gueye, 40, told AFP.

"My head is elsewhere. I don't know what to say. I'm not totally relieved. The country is not yet liberated," said a detainee who had just been released but did not want to be identified.

Gagne Demba Gueye, 32, had also just left prison.

"They just came to tell us to get out," he said.

"We're a bargaining chip, they're getting us out in exchange for the stability of the country," he added, sporting a Pastef bracelet.

'Never given up'

"We are going to take up the fight again, we've never given up," Gueye said.

Since the beginning of the week, Dakar's political circles have been buzzing with talk of an amnesty that would wipe out offences committed during unrest since March 2021 that has left dozens dead and seen hundreds arrested.

Sall, who has been in power since 2012, sparked uproar on February 3 when he called off the elections over disputes about the disqualification of potential candidates and concern about a repeat of the unrest seen in 2021 and 2023.

Parliament backed Sall's suspension of the election until December 15, but only after security forces stormed the building and removed some opposition lawmakers who opposed the bill.

The vote paved the way for Sall -- whose second term was due to expire in April -- to remain in office until a successor is installed, probably not until 2025.

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