Top Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko arrested: Lawyer

The firebrand politician and presidential candidate has faced a number of legal woes in recent years.

Ousmane Sonko
Senegalese opposition figure Ousmane Sonko was arrested on July 28, 2023, though no precise reasons were given [File: Seyllou/AFP]

Top Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko has been arrested, one of his lawyers told Al Jazeera.

Members of his party, as well as a senior security official, confirmed the arrest with the AFP news agency. The precise reasons for the arrest late on Friday are yet not known.

The firebrand politician and presidential candidate has faced a number of legal woes in recent years in the West African country – part of a plot to keep him out of politics, he has alleged.

Sonko had long called for President Macky Sall to bow out of the 2024 election publicly, accusing Sall’s government of bringing court cases against the opposition politician in an effort to sideline the competition ahead of February’s election.

Sall said in early July he would not seek a third term in the presidential elections.

One of Sonko’s lawyers told Al Jazeera he was arrested for ‘stealing a mobile phone’ and ‘inciting violence’.

According to the lawyer, Sonko, who has been under house arrest, but in recent times has been allowed to leave his home, was coming back from Friday prayers.

The lawyer says that he was being intimidated by local police, who were trying to film him,” said Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from the capital Dakar.

Earlier on Friday afternoon, Sonko had said on social media that security forces stationed outside his home had been filming him.

“I ask the people to stand ready to face this endless abuse,” he wrote in the post.

He said he had taken one of the phones and demanded the images be deleted – a request which was denied.

“It’s alleged that Sonko snatched the phone out of this policeman’s hand and he was subsequently arrested, [according to the lawyer]”, Stratford reported.

In a message posted on Twitter, which is being rebranded as X, Juan Branco, one of Sonko’s lawyers, said the politician had been locked up in a court basement.

The incident happened late afternoon on Friday, a national holiday in Senegal.

In June, Sonko was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison for allegedly sexually abusing a beauty salon worker in 2021, a conviction that renders him ineligible to stand in next year’s election. The politician denied the allegations and said they were politically motivated. He has been under house arrest in the capital Dakar since May 28.

The case sparked sporadic unrest, culminating in fatal clashes at the time of his conviction that left 16 dead according to the government, 24 according to Amnesty International, and 30 according to Sonko’s party.

He was blocked in his home by a security detail between May 28 and July 24.

A former civil servant, Sonko rose to prominence in presidential elections in 2019, coming third after a campaign that took aim at Sall and the country’s ruling elite.

He has portrayed Sall as a would-be dictator, while the president’s supporters call him a rabble-rouser who has sown instability.

“The US embassy has put out an alert warning people of unrest, but a lot of unanswered questions here and potentially a very explosive situation in the Senegalese capital this evening,” Stratford reported.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies