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Senegal: Political Arrests, Media Restrictions a Worry in Lead up to Senegal Elections

In six months’ time the Senegalese will head to the polls to choose their next president. But observers say that government-imposed restrictions on social media, journalists and opposition parties are a sign that one of the strongest democracies in West Africa is in trouble.

Senegalese authorities have experts and rights groups worried by their recent arrests, infringements on press freedom, internet shutdowns and the repression of protests.

“It seems to have escalated in the past few weeks, and even more in the past few days,” said Jeffrey Conroy-Krutz, a professor of political science who specialises in African politics at Michigan State University.

Opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, now on hunger strike and in hospital, has been convicted of immoral behaviour and charged with fomenting insurrection, while human rights advocate and journalist Pape Alé Niang was arrested after commenting on Sonko’s detention.

At its general assembly on 5 August, Amnesty International called on Senegal to release Alé Niang and to end attacks on press freedom.

Worrying internet shutdown

The internet has also been shutdown regularly, as reported by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a recent report.

In June Senegal’s government began blocking digital platforms including Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Telegram and YouTube.

Days later, it extended the disruptions to all mobile internet and several television stations.

“The shutdowns have become more serious, even after president Sall announced that he would not run for a third term and protests eased,” Conroy-Krutz told RFI.

The shutdowns and arrest of journalists must be taken seriously, he said, adding they did not bode well for a liberal democracy such as Senegal’s.

“Senegal’s internet shutdowns are another sign of a democracy in peril.”

The dissolution of Sonko’s Pastef political party – which set off a wave of rising tensions – is the most worrying development, says Conroy-Krutz.

“That’s never happened before in Senegal.”

#Sénégal Hausse des tensions, suite à la dissolution du parti d’opposition #PASTEF et à l’arrestation de son dirigeant, Ousmane Sonko. Les autorités devraient annuler cette dissolution et respecter le droit de manifestation pacifique. https://t.co/OiINQvfjIA pic.twitter.com/byJMHqRBDq— HRW en français (@hrw_fr) August 3, 2023