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Senegal expels Ousmane Sonko's French lawyer

Franco-Spanish lawyer Juan Branco representing Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko speaks during a press conference in Paris on June 22, 2023, about a criminal complain   -  
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French-Spanish lawyer Juan Branco, who was jailed in Dakar on Sunday in connection with recent unrest in Senegal, was released on Monday under judicial supervision before being deported, the authorities and his lawyers said.

Mr Branco, who entered Senegal illegally several days ago to take part in the defence of opposition politician Ousmane Sonko despite a warrant for his arrest, was arrested on Friday evening in Mauritania after several days of searches. He was handed over to the Senegalese authorities and detained on Sunday on various charges.

"He was taken from prison this morning (Monday) and presented to the judge, who informed him that he had been placed under judicial supervision", Robin Binsard, one of his lawyers, told AFP. He was then handed over to the police for deportation, he said.

"The Minister of the Interior has issued an order to deport him (...) In the next few hours, he should leave Senegal", Senegal's Minister of Justice, Ismaïla Madior Fall, told the press.

"He is exhausted but relieved", added Mr Binsard. The minister said that Mr Branco had refused to eat or drink while in detention.

Mr Branco was charged on Sunday with attack, conspiracy, spreading false news, acts and manoeuvres likely to compromise public security or cause serious political unrest, illegal residence and contempt of court, according to his lawyers.

The authorities have taken very seriously the actions of the Spanish-French lawyer, who has made a name for himself in the country by taking part in the defence of Ousmane Sonko, an opponent who has been engaged in a stand-off with the authorities and the courts since 2021. The confrontation between Mr Sonko, a candidate in the 2024 presidential election, and the authorities has given rise to several episodes of deadly violence.

Mr Branco attracted particular attention when he announced a complaint in France in June against Senegalese President Macky Sall for "crimes against humanity", at a time when the country had just experienced its worst unrest for years. He also asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to investigate Mr Sall.

He is known for his very sharp attacks on the Senegalese government.

- Setting an "example" -

Since mid-July, Mr Branco has been the target of a Senegalese judicial investigation and an international arrest warrant.

The government has described him as a publicity-hungry lawyer who has contributed to the tensions in the country in recent months. He "tried to experiment with his theory of revolution and insurrection in Senegal", said the Minister of Justice.

The authorities took it badly when the lawyer ignored the arrest warrant against him and unexpectedly arrived at a press conference of Mr Sonko's lawyers on 30 July, two days after Mr Sonko had been arrested and was due to be detained on various charges, including calling for insurrection.

Mr Branco then disappeared before being arrested on Sunday in Mauritania in circumstances that are still unclear, on board a pirogue and dressed as a fisherman, according to the Senegalese media.

The minister said that some of the charges against Mr Branco were criminal in nature. He said: "He could have been held in custody for years".

He assured that, despite the release, the proceedings would continue. "All the investigative steps will be taken; secondly, it is possible that his judicial supervision will be revoked; and thirdly, he may be tried (...) He could be sentenced (...) We have judicial cooperation relations (with) France, (which) means that he can serve his sentence in France", according to the minister.

"But what was important in this case was that Senegal should show its sovereignty, that Senegal should set an example", he added.

Mr Branco was entitled to French and Spanish consular assistance.

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