Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko initiates hunger strike amidst arrest

Firebrand Senegalese opposition figure Ousmane Sonko declared on Sunday that he has commenced a hunger strike while in custody after being detained earlier this week. His arrest has been widely criticized, with his legal team denouncing the charges leveled against him.

Sonko, known for his vocal criticism of President Macky Sall and his continuous legal troubles, faces seven new charges announced by the Senegalese public prosecutor on Saturday. He contends that these charges are politically motivated to silence him and thwart his political aspirations.

In response to the situation, Sonko penned a defiant message stating, “In the face of so much hate, lies, oppression, persecution, I have decided to resist,” and extended an invitation for “all political detainees” to join him in the hunger strike.

A scheduled interrogation by a judge is set to take place on Monday as part of the ongoing legal proceedings.

During a press conference held in Dakar on Sunday, Sonko’s legal team criticized the authorities for not respecting their client’s rights. One of the lawyers, French national Juan Branco, bravely appeared despite an international arrest warrant filed against him by Senegalese prosecutors on July 14.

Branco passionately pledged to defend Ousmane Sonko, whom he described as carrying the hopes of an entire nation and humanity itself. Notably, Branco had previously filed a criminal complaint against President Macky Sall in France, accusing him of “crimes against humanity” and urging an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. Branco also implicated other high-ranking officials in the complaint.

Sonko’s arrest on the recent charges has raised questions about the impact on his prior conviction in a high-profile moral corruption case, in which he was sentenced to two years in prison. His legal team argues that the new arrest should nullify the previous conviction as he was tried in absentia. According to Senegal’s penal code, a conviction for absent defendants can be annulled if they are arrested within a specific time frame, unless they explicitly agree to the sentence within ten days.

The new charges against Sonko include various incidents and comments dating back to 2021, as well as an incident at his residence on Friday that led to his arrest. Charges leveled against him include calling for insurrection, undermining state security, criminal association with a terrorist group, and theft.

In a related development, prominent Senegalese journalist and government critic Pape Ale Niang was also arrested on Saturday and initiated a hunger strike, according to his lawyer. Niang had spoken about Sonko’s arrest in a live-streamed video on YouTube.

The situation has sparked widespread concern over the state of democracy and political freedom in Senegal, with international attention focused on the unfolding events surrounding Ousmane Sonko’s detention and hunger strike.

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