Senegal restricts internet as opposition leader formally charged

Internet services are being suspended as Ousmane Sonko is formally charged with fomenting insurrection.

Opposition leader Ousmane Sonko speaks during a news conference in Daka
Opposition leader Ousmane Sonko was charged with plotting an insurrection, criminal conspiracy and other offences [Cooper Inveen/Reuters]

Senegal has restricted access to internet services from Monday due to the spread of “hateful messages” on social media, the country’s communications minister said in a statement, as opposition leader Ousmane Sonko is formally charged with fomenting an insurrection.

“Due to the dissemination of hateful and subversive messages on social networks … mobile data internet is being temporarily suspended during certain hours from Monday July 31”, Communications Minister Moussa Bocar Thiam said in a statement.

“Telephone operators are required to comply with the notified requirements.”

The move comes after opposition leader Ousmane Sonko was charged with plotting an insurrection, criminal conspiracy, and other offences, three days after being arrested at his home.

Sonko, a presidential candidate and fierce critic of President Macky Sall, “was charged and placed in custody” after appearing before a judge on Monday, lawyer Ousseynou Ngom told AFP.

The public prosecutor on Saturday announced seven new charges to be made against Sonko, including undermining state security, criminal association with a ‘terrorist’ body and theft.

An eighth charge of disseminating false news was added, one of Sonko’s lawyers told local media on Monday.

His followers have been angered by the prospect of a conviction, which could bar him from running in next year’s presidential election.

Cire Cledor Ly, one of Sonko’s lawyers, said the defence team had not been able to speak to or prepare the politician for the hearing.

“It is a scandal,” he told reporters outside the court.

In a separate affair, Sonko was on June 1 sentenced in absentia to two years in prison for morally corrupting a young woman, which could make him ineligible to stand in next year’s election.

His sentencing in that case sparked clashes that left 16 dead according to the government, 24 according to Amnesty International, and 30 according to Sonko’s Patriots of Senegal (PASTEF) party.

On Saturday, the prosecutor said his arrest a day earlier had “nothing to do” with the moral corruption proceedings.

Sonko announced on Sunday that he was going on a hunger strike and asked his supporters to “stand up” and “resist … oppression”.

On Monday, the Yewwi Askan Wi (“Liberate the People”) opposition coalition called on citizens to go en masse to the courthouse.

In the early hours of Monday morning, the company operating a toll highway in the suburbs of Dakar said on social media that protesters had blocked the road. It later said traffic had returned to normal.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies