In Senegal, 350 detainees released to calm the political game

Surrounded by his cousin and aunt, Babacar Badji, 28, is enjoying his first week of freedom after nine months in prison

In Senegal, 350 detainees released to calm the political game

Surrounded by his cousin and aunt, Babacar Badji, 28, is enjoying his first week of freedom after nine months in prison. Since Friday February 16, he has been back in the family home in the Grand Yoff HLM district of Dakar, the Senegalese capital, where he was arrested on the evening of May 15, 2023, the day before an appearance for rape by the opponent Ousmane Sonko. “I had gone out to visit a friend, the gendarmes reproached me for having participated in demonstrations in a neighboring district,” defends this law student, placed under arrest warrant for disturbing public order and participation in an unauthorized demonstration, after three days in police custody.

Never heard on the merits by an investigating judge, he was ultimately one of the 350 detainees, released from February 15. All were arrested during the violent demonstrations which shook Senegal between March 2021 and June 2023. According to the Minister of Justice, Aïssata Tall Sall, 272 other detainees are still waiting to benefit from the same release measure. Friday, February 23, a few new prisoners were released “slowly” in the regions of Thiès and Tambacounda, according to Abdoulaye Tall, the lawyer for many of them and member of the African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity, an opposition party dissolved in July by the authorities.

These releases come as the authorities try to calm the political climate, stiffened by the announcement on February 3 by the head of state, Macky Sall, to postpone the presidential election which was to be held on the 25th of the same month. His decision was invalidated ten days later by the constitutional council, but since then the president has not set a new voting date as requested by the seven wise men. Instead, he calls for “national consultations”, which are due to open on Monday 26 at the Abdou-Diouf International Conference Center in Diamnadio, which a large part of the political class and civil society have already refused.

“They are political detainees.”

“I have indicated to my government the need for arrangements to facilitate the release of a number of detainees and even go beyond because the country needs forgiveness, reconciliation and to get through this period in peace and stability », Declared President Macky Sall on February 22 during an interview with several Senegalese media, to show his goodwill. Another gesture of relaxation from the authorities: the announcement of a resumption of face-to-face teaching on Monday at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar. They were arrested in June after violence following Ousmane Sonko's two-year prison sentence.

“But the release of detainees should not be the subject of negotiations with President Macky Sall who wants to assert his dialogue,” warns Pape Fara, vice-coordinator of the collective of political detainees, who considers that all these arrests have been arbitrary . “Acts or maneuver likely to compromise public security”, “participation in an undeclared demonstration”, “call to insurrection”, “participation in an unarmed gathering” are the most frequently charged charges according to the advice from the defendants. “Some were arrested during demonstrations or after comments made on social media. They are political detainees,” said Maître Moussa Sarr, the lawyer for around thirty released detainees. Among them, Aliou Sané, the coordinator of the Y’en a marre movement, Djamil Sané, the mayor of the commune of Parcelles Assainies in the suburbs of Dakar or Oustaz Asssane Seck, a preacher from the private television SenTV.

The Ministry of Justice rejects these accusations of justice under supervision and speaks of release on a case-by-case basis following criteria which respect the code of criminal procedure. “Either the disturbances to public order have stopped, or the person has guarantees of representation or there is no risk of repetition of the facts,” explains Ibrahima Faye, technical advisor to the Minister of Justice. It was therefore the Minister of Justice who asked prosecutors to make requisitions for the release of certain detainees from the investigating judges, responsible for making a decision. “I have pleaded these same criteria for ten or twelve months to request the provisional release of my clients but this has always been refused. They were therefore released for political reasons,” replies Maître Sarr.

Amnesty law

This is particularly the case of his client, the rapper and activist Mor Talla Guèye, whose artist name is Nitdoff, arrested on November 17, 2023 for “disseminating false news” and “death threats” after comments made in a video broadcast live on its social networks. Close to Ousmane Sonko, the artist does not hesitate to express his most vehement opinions. “No one can stop me from expressing myself. We are supposed to be in a country of law where we are protected by justice but that is not the case,” denounces the rapper, author of the song Badoola (“Ingrate” in Wolof), addressed to Macky Sall, released during his custody.

Whatever their magnitude, Pape Fara, of the collective of political prisoners, is not completely satisfied with these releases. “Many detainees must still benefit from provisional release and we are seeing a slowdown,” worries the activist, who adds that these releases are only provisional and that the courts can seize individuals at any time. “We need a total release or they must go to trial for justice to be done,” he insists.

President Macky Sall proposed an amnesty law without mentioning the details. A project immediately rejected by the collective of prisoners who fear that this law aims above all to protect from any procedure the police, whom they consider to be responsible for the forty people killed during demonstrations since March 2021 On Saturday, the rallies in Dakar both in protest and in support of President Macky Sall, authorized this time, took place smoothly.