In a new flare-up of unrest ahead of the upcoming presidential elections, Senegalese opposition lawmaker Ousmane Sonko was forcefully evicted from his vehicle by security personnel on Thursday (16 Feb. 2023) after his followers were scattered by tear gas.
The incidents happened after a politically contentious trial, whose date was also scheduled on Thursday, was postponed. The trial’s outcome might determine Sonko’s eligibility for the 2019 presidential elections.
The politician, who placed third in the 2019 presidential election and has declared himself a candidate for the 2024 election, is seen being ejected violently from the backseat of his car in video footage posted live on social media. Sonko is heard saying he refused to go as they are seen smashing the window. Next, the men unlock the door and yank the politician by the arm outside. Sonko first resisted, but eventually gave in and allowed himself to be hauled away. Afterward, the police prefecture confirmed that he had been sent home.
The incidents occur amid rising unrest in the West African nation, which is known for its general stability in a region rife with political unrest.
Over 100 Sonko supporters had earlier been scattered by security forces using tear gas as they tried to approach the court in Dakar, the country’s capital.
Sonko, 48, has experienced a swift political ascent in part because of his appeal to young people.
But over the past two years, he has received numerous court summonses.
In this case, Sonko is being sued by Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang for “defamation, insults, and forgery.”
In preparation for the hearing on Thursday (16 February, 2023), there was a considerable police presence on the streets of Dakar.
Guards stopped supporters from entering the room, which was already crowded with reporters and opposition members when Sonko entered the court and caused a stampede.
The trial then began, but the judge ruled that it be continued until March 16 instead.
Sonko was supposed to show up in court on February 2 but did not. His attorneys asserted that he hadn’t received a summons.
On Wednesday (15 February) evening, Sonko announced that he would appear in court Thursday (16 February) and called on “all Senegalese” to join him there.
In March 2021, Sonko was arrested over rape allegations, triggering violence in which around a dozen people were killed.
Although the trial date is not yet determined, a court has ordered that he stand trial in the rape case.
Sonko asserts that the legal system is being abused to keep him out of the spotlight; the authorities refute this accusation.
Several other well-known presidential opponents in previous years have had their political careers ended by court challenges.
Authorities also revealed on Thursday (16 February) that the next presidential election has been set for February 25, 2024.