Senegal’s interior ministry has dissolved the political party of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko for rallying supporters into stoking unrest during violent protests last month, as demonstrators clashed with police in the capital Dakar.
According to a decree signed by Interior Minister Antoine Felix Abdoulaye Diome, the government accused the party leaders of “frequently calling on its supporters to insurrectional movements, which has led to serious consequences, including loss of life, many wounded, as well as acts of looting of public and private property”.
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“The latest are the serious disturbances to public order recorded during the first week of June 2023, after those of March 2021,” the decree said.
The dissolution of the Patriots of Senegal (PASTEF) party was the latest move in a long-running tussle between President Macky Sall’s ruling party and Sonko’s PASTEF, whose supporters say that Sall has used trumped-up charges to sideline his popular opponent ahead of an election in February.
There was no immediate comment from PASTEF.
Demonstrators took to the streets of Dakar once again on Monday as Sonko was remanded in custody on charges that include plotting an insurrection.
The new charges include undermining state security, criminal association with a “terrorist” body, disseminating false news and theft.
“I have just been unjustly placed in custody,” Sonko wrote on Facebook on Monday.
“If the Senegalese people, for whom I have always fought, abdicate and decide to leave me in the hands of Macky Sall’s regime, I will submit, as always, to divine will,” he said.
Sonko on hunger strike
“It’s a farce,” Cire Cledor Ly, one of Sonko’s lawyers, told reporters outside the courthouse on Monday.
“It’s a plot that was formed, thought out, planned and executed.”
Sonko on Monday continued a hunger strike he began a day earlier, his lawyers said.
They said there was no limit to his detention time as the new charges are criminal.
“The judge can retain him until the case is heard”, Babacar Ndiaye, one of the lawyers, said.
Sonko was arrested on Friday after claiming on social media that security forces had been filming him outside his house and that he had snatched one of the phones to ask them to delete the video.
On Monday, authorities announced they were restricting mobile internet access due to “hateful and subversive” messages on social media.
Sonko had called, a day earlier, on Senegalese people to “stand up” and “resist… oppression”.
The internet was restricted for six days during the unrest in early June.
In a post on Twitter, which is being rebranded as X, Amnesty International denounced the internet restrictions, calling them an “attack on freedom of information”.
Sonko’s sentencing in absentia to two years in prison last month in a moral corruption case sparked deadly clashes that killed at least 16 people, the government said. But Amnesty International said the number was higher at 24, and Soko’s PASTEF party said 30 people were killed.
A former civil servant, Sonko rose to prominence in the 2019 presidential election, coming third in the polls.
He has portrayed Sall as a would-be dictator, while the president’s supporters say Sonko has sown instability.
Sall in early July eased tensions in the normally stable West African nation by announcing he would not seek a controversial third term, following months of ambiguity and speculation about his intentions.