Senegal court orders opposition leader Sonko to be reinstated on electoral list

DAKAR (Reuters) -A Senegal court has ordered jailed opposition leader Ousmane Sonko to be reinstated on the electoral register, a ruling that could pave the way for him to run in a February presidential election, Sonko’s lawyer Cire Cledor Ly said on Thursday.

Sonko has faced a flurry of court cases over the past two years for charges including libel and rape, which he denies. The cases against him have triggered deadly violence in the West African nation.

Sonko, 49, was cleared of rape in June, but sentenced to a two-year jail term after a court found him guilty of an offence described in the penal code as immoral behaviour towards individuals younger than 21.

He was arrested in July for insurrection and was struck off the electoral roll, a decision that potentially ruled him out of the February vote.

Sonko came third in Senegal’s 2019 presidential election, and he is seen as a main opposition challenger in the race to succeed President Macky Sall.

The court of first instance in the capital Dakar overturned the decision on Thursday, Ly told reporters outside the court.

“We have confidence in the justice system. This decision doesn’t surprise us. We were just afraid that they might use force against us. But this country won’t go anywhere if justice doesn’t work,” he said.

Another lawyer for the firebrand opposition leader, Bamba Cisse, told journalists that the court’s decision would potentially enable Sonko to participate in Senegal’s February 2024 presidential election.

A lawyer for the state said the government would appeal.

(Reporting by Diadie Ba and Ngouda Dione; Writing by Nellie Peyton and Bate Felix; Editing by Alexander Winning and Alex Richardson)