In Senegal, Ousmane Sonko towards a partial amnesty

Will Ousmane Sonko, an opponent imprisoned since July 2023, be the first beneficiary of the amnesty bill in Senegal? The way is now open for his release, as well as that of his replacement in the presidential election, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, according to the text presented Monday March 4 by the government to deputies

In Senegal, Ousmane Sonko towards a partial amnesty

Will Ousmane Sonko, an opponent imprisoned since July 2023, be the first beneficiary of the amnesty bill in Senegal? The way is now open for his release, as well as that of his replacement in the presidential election, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, according to the text presented Monday March 4 by the government to deputies. Adopted on Wednesday February 28 in the Council of Ministers, this measure desired by President Macky Sall, with a view to “calming the political and social climate”, must now continue its accelerated progress before the National Assembly.

On Tuesday, the text must be examined in the law committee; Wednesday, submitted to the vote of deputies in plenary session. Will it, if adopted, be the antidote to the political crisis triggered a month ago by the decision of the Head of State to postpone the presidential election, without any voting date? has been fixed since then? The controversy that followed his announcement, as well as the unknowns that he leaves hanging in the moment of uncertainty that Senegal is experiencing, calls for caution.

According to the first article of the bill, the amnesty concerns “all acts likely to qualify as a criminal or correctional offense committed between February 1, 2021 and February 25, 2024, both in Senegal and abroad , relating to demonstrations or having political motivations, including those made by all communication media, whether their authors have been tried or not.”

Although it does not cite any names, the text thus offers the possibility of the release of Bassirou Diomaye Faye, the official candidate of the dissolved party the African Patriots of Senegal for work, ethics and fraternity (Pastef). Arrested in April 2023, notably for “contempt of court”, he remains in detention for “acts likely to compromise public peace”. In its second article, the bill seems to go even further, specifying that "amnesty entails (...) the total remission of all sentences (...) as well as the disappearance of all disqualifications, exclusions, incapacities and deprivations of rights attached to punishment.”

A text that is not unanimous, even in opposition

These few lines should open the debate on the release, and even the candidacy, of Ousmane Sonko, detained in particular for “calling for insurrection”. The fiercest opponent of Macky Sall had been made ineligible by his six-month suspended prison sentence for defamation against the Minister of Tourism, Mame Mbaye Niang.

Based on the reasons presented at the start of the bill, which should allow "people deprived of their civil and political rights to be restored to their rights", the opponent's lawyer, Etienne Dionne, maintains that his client is amnestiable since “this is a matter between two political actors, concerning comments which were made by Mr. Sonko during a political activity”.

However, there remains another conviction which weighs on the prison and political future of Ousmane Sonko which would not be covered by the bill: that of two years in prison for "corruption of youth", after the leader of the Pastef was accused of repeated rapes by an employee of a massage parlor in Dakar.

In view of the stakes, the discussions promise to be long and agitated in the National Assembly and while the text is not unanimous among either the majority or the opposition. Ismaïla Madior Fall, current Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Minister of Justice, announced on February 27 on the set of private television 7TV that the amnesty would not concern either defamation or the rape case in which Mr. Sonko been convicted. No further official position has since been expressed.

“A denial of justice for the victims of police repression”

Cautiously, the Senegalese Democratic Party says it wants to “study the content” before deciding, while Karim Wade, the son of former president Abdoulaye Wade, is trying to return to the presidential race after having seen his candidacy rejected due to double Nationality.

“The law is vague, we are going to seek the opinion of experts before presenting a common position”, explained for his part Monday evening Ayib Daffé, deputy of the ex-Pastef, after a meeting of the parliamentary group of the opposition Yewwi Askan Wi. If the amnesty allowed the release of the two main heads of Pastef, this would then probably raise internally the question of the choice between a rapid election with Bassirou Diomaye Faye, the solution demanded until then, or a later one with Ousmane Sonko, his main leader.

President Macky Sall continues to promise that he will leave on April 2 at the end of his mandate, but in the meantime does not fail to seek to sow confusion among his opponents.

“We are not asking for this amnesty. We want the truth first, that the guilty be judged, before pardoning", clearly proclaims Abdoulaye Wade (no relation to the ex-president), after three years of fighting "so that light is shed" on the death of his brother in March 2021 in a demonstration. He filed a complaint against the police commander of the Parcelles assainies district in Dakar, where the young man was killed.

“It is hasty to pass this law, we have seen around fifty deaths since the demonstrations of March 2021 and not a single person has been arrested. We cannot erase everything,” also protests Alassane Seck, president of the Senegalese Human Rights League. For Seydi Gassama, the director of the Senegalese section of Amnesty International, this law is "a denial of justice for the victims of police repression" and "a premium on impunity" for all those who are responsible for it. .