A Senegalese court on Thursday cleared opposition leader Ousmane Sonko of all rape-related accusations but sentenced him to two years in prison for influencing young people. As a result, he is currently ineligible to run for president in the upcoming election.
Since the accusations were originally brought up in 2021, Sonko, the 48-year-old head of the PASTEF-Patriots party, has argued that they are politically motivated. Sonko did appear in court on Thursday. He had been charged with raping a massage therapist’s employee in 2021 and threatening to kill her.
The conviction for “Corrupting youth,” which is defined as immoral behavior or promoting such behavior of a person under the age of 21 — his accuser was 20 at the time he was convicted — disqualifies Sonko from running for office, even though it is a less serious felony than rape under Senegalese law.
Outside the courtroom on Thursday, Sonko’s attorneys told reporters that the conviction was intended to keep him from challenging the incumbent president Macky Sall in 2024. It’s not clear if Sonko can challenge the judgment.
Sonko, who has frequently criticized the president in public, is thought to be Sall’s most challenging opponent in the 2018 election.
He is well-liked among Senegalese youth and has called for widespread protests earlier this week in response to the accusations made against him. The capital city of Dakar saw demonstrations and street fires on Thursday, according to Agence France-Presse.
The French news source also claims that security personnel shot tear gas at reporters who had staked out a position close to Sonko’s home. The news organisation posted video of a reporter and camera crew escaping a gas cloud on its website.
Tensions have increased in the typically peaceful West African nation as a result of the Sonko case. Sonko led a “freedom caravan” from his hometown in southern Senegal to the capital last week, which resulted in skirmishes with police forces and the death of one person.
Sall began a “national dialogue” on Wednesday, the day before Sonko was sentenced, which he described as an effort to reduce tensions including political figures, members of civil society, spiritual leaders, and labor unions. A significant portion of the opposition is expected to boycott the discussions, which are expected to run for around two weeks.