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Freedoms at stake in Senegal, year ahead of the presidential election

Supporters of The Movement of the Defence of Democracy (M2D) react during a rally in Dakar on June 23, 2021, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the 2011 protests   -  
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JOHN WESSELS/AFP or licensors


Senegal, touted as a "democratic model" in West Africa, is facing rising tensions, a year ahead of the presidential election.

Several activists and members of the opposition are denouncing "a retreat from democracy" due to, among other things, "arbitrary arrests" and bans on demonstrations.

In recent years, several other prominent opponents of the president have had their political careers cut short by legal cases.

"We are no longer the showcase of democracy that we boast about in front of other African countries, we are no longer better than the others. We have a president who, through his actions since he came to power, has succeeded in bringing our democracy to the ground, and the worst thing is that today he has this project of a third candidacy for which he will do whatever it takes, whatever ignoble acts it takes," said Aliou Sané, coordinator of the movement 'Y en a marre'.

Senegalese journalists have also been victims of government harassment and arbitrary arrests.

A local journalist was arrested this week for contempt of court.

"Freedom of expression does not only belong to journalists, freedom of expression belongs to all Senegalese. Today, how many Senegalese are in prison for simply expressing their views through social networks in particular?" asked Moustapha Diop, a general manager of Walf TV.

As human rights organizations sound the alarm, the state says there is "no crisis" because judicial "channels and remedies" are available to Senegalese who feel aggrieved.

"We have more than a hundred people who have been arrested because they are close to the opposition and critical of the government, and this is a trend that is strongly deplored, especially the abusive arrests of people for their comments on social networks or their political opinion," said Ousmane Diallo, Ousmane Diallo, a researcher at Amnesty's regional office in Dakar.

The main opposition figure Ousmane Sonko, 48, has enjoyed a rapid political rise thanks in part to his popularity with young people.

But he has repeatedly been summoned to court over the past two years.

The next presidential elections have been scheduled for February 25, 2024, authorities also announced on Thursday.

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