Senegal Bans Protest Against Vote Delay, Cuts Mobile Internet

Protesters gesture after police fired teargas at them outside the General Assembly in Plateau, Dakar on February 5, 2024. Security forces used tear gas to disperse an opposition rally outside Senegal’s parliament on February 5, 2024, shortly before the start of a contentious debate on postponing this month’s presidential election. (Photo by JOHN WESSELS / AFP)

Senegalese authorities faced growing domestic outrage and renewed international pressure on Tuesday, when the government blocked mobile internet and banned a march protesting the postponement of this month’s presidential election.

Three people have been killed in violent protests since President Macky Sall postponed the February 25 election, throwing Senegal into one of its most serious crises in decades.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told Dakar that it was “extremely important that all Senegalese have their right to demonstrate peacefully respected”.

He urged the crisis to be “resolved through established constitutional means,” according to Guterres’ spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

Former colonial master France advised the West African nation to respond to protests in a “proportionate” manner and restated its support for a presidential election as soon as feasible.

Demonstrations in Senegal are subject to authorisation, with authorities declining to allow several opposition protests in recent years.

Unauthorised protests frequently turn violent, with dozens murdered since 2021, according to rights groups.

Security troops repressed Friday’s demonstrations.

“The Senegalese authorities continue to disregard peaceful dissent,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

“Authorities must promptly, thoroughly, independently, impartially, transparently and effectively investigate the lethal use of force against protestors,” she went on to say.

The US embassy in Senegal also encouraged authorities to “fully respect” the right to peaceful assembly and free expression in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

The Aar Sunu Election (Let’s Protect Our Election) collective, which includes over 40 civil, religious, and professional groups, has called for a peaceful march in Dakar on Tuesday at 1500 GMT.

However, organisers said they had received an official letter from Dakar local authorities stating that the march was prohibited due to the potential for major traffic disruption.

The collective has postponed the march until Saturday.

“We will postpone the march because we want to comply with the law,” said Malick Diop, coordinator of the Aar Sunu Election group.

‘Subversive Hate Messages’

By mid-afternoon, an AFP correspondent reported a large police presence but no demonstrators in the area where the demonstration was scheduled to take place.

According to Liz Throssell, a spokesperson for the United Nations Human Rights Office, at least three young men were slain, and 266 individuals, including journalists, were imprisoned around the country.

The UN urged for an immediate and independent investigation into the killings.

On Tuesday, authorities stopped mobile internet connection for the second time this month, blaming “the dissemination on social networks of several subversive hate messages that have already provoked violent demonstrations” (source).

When parliament endorsed Sall’s move to postpone the election, mobile data access was already blocked eight days earlier. It was eventually restored last Wednesday.

The decision to restrict access followed a similar step made by Senegal’s government in June, when mobile internet was restricted due to heightened tensions.

Sall stated that he postponed the election due to disagreements regarding the disqualification of potential candidates and fears of a repeat to the instability observed in 2021 and 2023.

Parliament approved Sall’s suspension of the election to December 15, but only after security personnel stormed the chamber and ejected some opposition lawmakers who opposed the legislation.

The vote allowed Sall, whose second term was set to expire in April, to remain in office until his successor is installed, which would most likely be in 2025.

Possible Amnesty

Senegal’s opposition has condemned the action as a “constitutional coup” and fears it is part of a scheme by the presidential camp to avoid loss at the polls.

It has criticized the postponement as an attempt to extend Sall’s term in office, despite his repeated assurances that he would not run again.

Sall, who has been in office since 2012, has spoken of “appeasement and reconciliation” as a route out of the crisis.

Media reports have raised the prospect of discussion with the opposition, notably anti-establishment firebrand Ousmane Sonko, who fought the state for more than two years before being imprisoned last year.

Some believe that Sonko, his imprisoned second-in-command Bassirou Diomaye Faye, and those captured during unrest in 2021 and 2023 could be granted amnesty.

Written by PH

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