Senegal opposition leader appears in court over rape case

Ousmane Sonko, 48, was accused last year of raping an employee of a beauty salon where he was getting a massage

Ousmane Sonko(C), President of the opposition party Senegalese Patriots for Work, Ethics and Brotherhood (PASTEF), gives a press statement at the HLM basic school in Ziguinchor on July 3, 2022. Senegalese voters head to the polls Sunday for parliamentary elections the opposition hopes will force a coalition with President Macky Sall and curb any ambitions he may hold for a third term. (Photo by MUHAMADOU BITTAYE / AFP)

Senegal’s main opposition leader appeared in a Dakar court over rape accusations for the first time on Thursday, with a lawyer calling the case a state “conspiracy” that should be dropped.

Ousmane Sonko, 48, was accused last year of raping an employee of a beauty salon where he was getting a massage.

His arrest and indictment in March 2021 led to several days of deadly riots in Senegal, a nation usually viewed as a beacon of stability in politically volatile West Africa.

Sonko claims Senegalese President Macky Sall is attempting to set a trap for him and his supporters and on Wednesday appealed for calm, urging them not to gather outside the court.

Thursday’s hearing in the Senegalese capital lasted three hours. A large security presence was deployed throughout the city, particularly around Sonko’s home and the court building.

Cire Cledor Ly, one of Sonko’s lawyers, told AFP his client exposed a “badly planned conspiracy” and debunked “fabrications and lies (designed) to taint a political leader”.

Sonko hopes the case will be dropped entirely due to the “non-existent acts” he is accused of, Ly added.

Sonko tweeted that  the hearing “went very well” but he was left “without protection” after gendarmes arrested some of his security team.

They had been detained following violence last week during a political trip in western Senegal, the local prosecutor said in a statement.

The authorities have denied any misuse of state institutions in the legal proceedings against Sonko, who came third in the last presidential election in 2019 and plans to run again in 2024.

He was elected mayor of the southern city of Ziguinchor in January and has enjoyed a rapid political rise in part thanks to his popularity with young people. 

But critics characterise him as a populist firebrand. He regularly tears into social elites and corruption, slamming the economic and political grip of multinational firms and former colonial power France.

Sall, who was elected in 2012 and again in 2019, has remained vague on whether he intends to run for a controversial third term in 2024.


© Agence France-Presse

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