Senegal’s top court upholds opposition leader defamation convictionFri, 05 Jan 2024 03:00:47 GMT

Senegal’s Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a six-month suspended sentence handed to jailed opposition leader Ousmane Sonko for defamation, a state lawyer said, a decision widely seen as jeopardising his chances of running for president.The 49-year-old, who has filed to stand in next month’s presidential election, has been at the centre of a stand-off with the state that has lasted more than two years and sparked several episodes of deadly unrest.”The sentence and fines have been confirmed. Sonko lost on all counts,” state’s lawyer El Hadji Diouf said after Supreme Court Judge Abdourahmane Diouf ruled just before midnight after a more than 12-hour hearing.He added that Sonko was “now totally banned from taking part in an election”.But the final decision on Sonko’s eligibility to run for the presidency rests with the Constitutional Council which is expected to rule on the matter later on Friday.The opposition figure, who came third in the 2019 presidential election, was in March handed a two-month suspended sentence and a hefty fine for defamation and insults against Senegal’s Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang. Sonko was also ordered to pay 200 million CFA francs ($330,000) in damages to Niang.A Dakar appeals court later extended the term to six months.Despite the state’s refusal to provide him with the necessary documents to run, Sonko’s camp maintained he still has the right to contest the vote since a judge in December ordered that he be re-instated on the electoral roll. The defamation hearing opened on Thursday, without Sonko present, an AFP journalist saw. He is in jail due to a separate case.- ‘Matchpoint’ -“This trial is the match point,” said Cheikh Koureyssi Ba, one of the opposition leader’s lawyers, at the marathon hearing.”This case is an operation to eliminate an opponent politically,” said Massokhna Kane, another of Sonko’s lawyers.Sonko was struck off Senegal’s electoral register after being sentenced in June to two years’ imprisonment for morally corrupting a young person.He has been jailed since the end of July on other charges, including calling for insurrection, conspiracy with terrorist groups and endangering state security.He has denied the charges, saying they are intended to prevent him from running in the February 25 election.The firebrand figurehead has generated a passionate following among Senegal’s disaffected youth, striking a chord with his pan-Africanist rhetoric and tough stance on former colonial power France.President Macky Sall, who was elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2019, in July announced that he would not seek a third term. He handpicked his prime minister, Amadou Ba, as his coalition’s presidential candidate.More than 90 candidates have put their names forward to the Constitutional Council, which is due to announce the list of presidential contenders on January 20.