Senegalese collective traces record of victims of repressionWed, 14 Feb 2024 16:48:00 GMT

As journalist Abdallah Badji looks over the cramped courtyard of a low-rise building in Dakar, he is flooded by memories of June 2023, when political protesters were fired on.He remembers the moment friends and family of modern literature student El Hadj Mamadou Cisse,  paid their last respects after he died during protests. The violence in June was sparked by a two-year-sentence given to opposition figurehead Ousmane Sonko for “corrupting” a young woman.Now Badji, 28, is part of the Cartografree Senegal collective, a citizen’s initiative bringing together journalists, cartographers and data scientists to make a record of the victims.”(Cisse’s) friends had spread out a mat. The girls and boys were there praying for their friend, a good and pious man,” he recalls.  “I was so moved by the scene that I lost my words. I didn’t even know what questions to ask.”   Though Badji didn’t know the 26-year-old, they were almost the same age and could have been friends.  Cisse was caught up in the clashes between demonstrators and gendarmes on the way back from mosque on June 2, according to family and witnesses.  Days later Badji retraced his steps to understand the events leading up to him being shot dead.  He sketched his portrait after finding a photograph, fulfilling a desire to document history as a journalist.  “If we don’t do this work, no one will do it for us,” warns Badji.”That’s what people expect of us as journalists.”     – Dozens dead -Cartografree Senegal has continued its work to find the protesters who have died since the outbreak of fresh demonstrations against President Macky Sall’s delayed elections.  Three people have been shot dead — a 16-year-old and two young men, 22 and 23 — because they wanted to vote, show their opposition or were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  These three lives are in addition to the 29 deaths documented by the collective during the riots of June 2023, and the numerous other victims recorded since 2021 during episodes of unrest linked to Sonko’s court dramas. “We started when we realised the official death toll did not match the feedback we received, and the identities of the victims were being hidden,” says Moussa Ngom, the 31-year-old behind the initiative.  “From 2023 there was a total lack of transparency from the state about the number of victims,” the journalist adds, noting it became a source of confusion for media and international opinion. But data analysis has shown that the victims were generally young and underprivileged men who died from gunshot wounds mainly in Dakar, its suburbs and Sonko’s stronghold at Ziguinchor.- Justice –  Despite government promises, an investigation has not yet been completed. Abdoulaye Ba, Cisse’s godfather who watched him grow up, says he filed complaints with the police and gendarmerie.  “They told us that a case had been opened, but we haven’t heard anything since,” he tells AFP.  “We expect from the state that  justice will be done and at least compensate his family.”  In the twilight of a living room in a Dakar apartment, the group are working on a story about police violence, concentrating over their laptops, with a 24-hour news channel in the background. “As a journalist, you must be committed to democracy and the rule of law,” Moussa Ngom says, “You’re committed to justice.””Humanitarian principle guides us, not political partisanship.”At a time when several Senegalese journalists have been threatened or arrested and imprisoned, he says this work is more necessary than ever.  “The work of remembering our victims is much more important than the risks we may take.”