Senegal’s justice minister has said that the conviction of firebrand political opponent Ousmane Sonko in a moral corruption scandal is “final”, leaving him ineligible for the 2024 presidential election.
Sonko, a thorn in the side of President Macky Sall, has faced a string of legal woes since 2021 that he claims are aimed at keeping him out of politics.
He was found guilty on June 1 of morally corrupting a young woman and sentenced in absentia to two years in prison, sparking clashes that left at least 16 dead.
In July, he was arrested on separate charges, including fomenting insurrection, criminal association in connection with a terrorist enterprise and undermining state security over incidents dating back to 2021.
Sonko’s lawyers argue that his arrest on the new allegations cancelled out his conviction in the moral corruption case, because he had been tried in absentia.
According to Senegal’s penal code, if defendants who are tried in absentia are arrested within a certain limitation period, any conviction is automatically annulled unless they expressly agree to the sentence within 10 days.
In an interview published online Wednesday by the magazine Jeune Afrique, Justice Minister Ismaila Madior Fall said Sonko was arrested last month “in the context of another case” and that the rule did not apply.
“Why didn’t he turn himself in if he wanted his conviction in absentia to be quashed?” he said.
“Meanwhile, this has become final.”
Sonko was blocked in his home by security forces at the time of the sentencing but was not jailed following the handing down of the prison term.
“There is no cabal intended to oust a presidential candidate,” Fall added in the interview.
Sonko went on hunger strike on July 30 and was hospitalised on August 6.
Authorities have dissolved his political party and arrested hundreds of his supporters and party members, prompting criticism from human rights defenders.
The minister said that around 500 people had been detained in connection with this year’s unrest.
“Those who are behind bars have damaged shops or banks, attacked gendarmerie brigades or even set fire to town halls,” he said.
“There are no political prisoners in Senegal.”