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Three dead after protests in Senegal – internet blocks and demonstration ban

Following deadly protests against the postponement of the presidential election in Senegal, the authorities in the West African country have banned demonstrations planned for Tuesday and switched off the mobile internet. The United Nations Human Rights Office and the human rights organization Human Rights Watch called for an independent investigation into the police operation against the protests last weekend, in which at least three people were killed.

Senegal, which has been peaceful since its independence in 1960, is in crisis after the president and parliament decided to postpone the election scheduled for the end of February. Macky Sall, who has been in office since 2012, continues to assert that he will not run for a third term. However, parts of the opposition and other critics accuse him of a constitutional coup.

Human Rights Watch reported that at least three people were killed in the operation against demonstrators on Friday and Saturday, including a 16-year-old boy. The number of injured was put at 60. At least 271 people were arrested. Journalists were also attacked at work. For the report, the organization interviewed those affected and eyewitnesses and was given access to medical records. According to an HRW report, security forces already used excessive force against demonstrators last year.

Representatives of the United Nations expressed their "deep concern". "Following reports of unnecessary and disproportionate use of force against protesters and restrictions on public space, we call on the authorities to ensure that they uphold Senegal's long tradition of democracy and respect for human rights," said the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

On Tuesday, the Senegalese authorities once again temporarily switched off the mobile internet. The Ministry of Communications cited "hateful and subversive messages that have already provoked violent demonstrations resulting in deaths and considerable damage to property" as the reason. A march registered by the opposition through Dakar was banned by the authorities, citing obstruction of traffic.

Last week, the authorities had already cut off mobile internet for around 24 hours, as they did for the first time during protests in the summer of 2023, when demonstrations escalated into a defamation and abuse trial following the conviction of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, who was considered pan-Africanist and critical of the elite. According to Human Rights Watch and civil society organizations, hundreds of demonstrators have been in prison ever since.

Sonko himself has been in custody since the end of July on further charges, including endangering state security, and was not allowed to run in the election originally scheduled for February 25 due to the conviction. His party Pastef was dissolved, but its former Secretary General Bassirou Diomaye Faye was considered a promising candidate. Prime Minister Amadou Ba, nominated by the president as his successor, was among the 20 candidates admitted to the election.

The law to postpone the election was introduced by the liberal opposition party PDS, whose candidate Karim Wade had not been admitted as a candidate. After turmoil in parliament, MPs from the government camp and the PDS decided on February 5 to postpone the election to December 15 by 105 out of 165 votes. Sall had previously canceled the election date in a televised speech, citing the lack of stability.

The postponement of the election had also caused concern among the EU, the USA, the African Union and the West African community of states Ecowas. Senegal was regarded as a stable multi-party democracy in a region where democracy is increasingly threatened by coups and autocratic presidents. The country, with a population of just under 18 million, is the only one of its neighbors not to have experienced an uprising or civil war.

©Keystone/SDA

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