Senegal: Respect Democracy and Stop Violence Against Protesters

Restrictions on free expression and the use of violence against protesters following Senegal’s President Macky Sall’s decision to postpone the February 25 elections are against the government’s human rights obligations, global civil society alliance CIVICUS  said today.

Several protesters have been arrested, including opposition figure Aminata Toure, with police using tear gas against demonstrators. Authorities also suspended the WALF television station and blocked mobile internet access, seriously limiting free communications in the country.

CIVICUS calls on Senegal’s government to respect democratic values.

“We call on President Macky Sall and the Senegalese authorities to stop using violence against protesters and to respect democratic norms and the will of the Senegalese people to choose their leaders through free and fair elections,” said CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns Lead David Kode. “They should stop persecuting civil society and members of the political opposition who are urging respect for constitutional reforms.”

Members of parliament voted to delay the elections until December 15 following chaos inside the chamber and forcible removal of protesting opposition parliamentarians by security forces. This would extend President Sall’s stay in power for months until his successor is installed. Critics have called this move “an institutional coup.”

“President Macky Sall’s announcement to postpone elections threatens Senegal’s democracy and could have serious impacts on the country’s human rights,” said Kode. “His decision to hold onto power further threatens to reverse the democratic gains made in Senegal over the last decade.”

Senegal has long been a relatively free and democratic nation, but in recent years has seen backsliding on rights. In 2023, Senegal’s civic space dramatically worsened ahead of the scheduled presidential elections as the authorities increased restrictions on freedom of association, expression and assembly while targeting members of the political opposition.

In December, the CIVICUS Monitor downgraded  the country’s civic space rating to ‘repressed’ after measuring one of the largest drops in civic space in Senegal of any country in 2023. Earlier that year, CIVICUS Monitor added  Senegal to its watchlist of countries experiencing sharp declines in civic freedoms.

Last year, authorities arrested opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and dissolved his political party – Parti Patriotes Africaines du Senegal pour le Travail l’Ethique et la Fraternité (PASTEF).  They then used  deadly force against protesters opposing Sonko’s arrest.

Police also arrested  several journalists for reporting on the restrictions placed on Ousmane Sonko and his party, including Khalil Kamara of the independent online media outlet Senego and Pape Ale Niang of the news site Dakar Matin. Khalil was arrested on 5 September 2023 and charged with disseminating false news, defamation and offending the head of state after he published an opinion piece critical of President Sall and the indictment of Ousmane Sonko. The authorities have also restricted access to some social media platforms including Tik-Tok.

CIVICUS  is the global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action throughout the world. Established in 1993 and since 2002 proudly headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa with additional hubs across the globe, CIVICUS has more than 15,000 members in more than 175 countries.

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