Senegal: Clashes between police officers, students in Dakar on the eve of Sonko trial
Clashes broke out Wednesday at the University of Dakar between police officers and students attempting to take part in a demonstration banned by the authorities on the eve of the trial of the opponent Ousmane Sonko.
Deployed en masse around the university, the police sent tear gas in the direction of students locked inside the campus. The students retaliated with stones, but were prevented from leaving.
An AFP journalist who was present with several colleagues before the incidents began was punched in the back of the head by a police officer who ordered the journalists to leave, accusing them of filming, which none of them were doing at the time, the journalists present reported.
The AFP journalist was then apprehended and forcibly taken away in a police van, despite attempts by his colleagues to intercede on his behalf, they said. The police officer threw a tear gas canister at their feet to keep them at bay.
Inside the van, the AFP reporter was punched several times in the upper body and behind the head by a police officer, he later said. He was released moments later.
“AFP strongly protests against this brutality exercised without any reason against one of its journalists who was doing his job,” said the agency’s news director, Phil Chetwynd.
This brutality “casts doubt on the repeated assurances of the Senegalese authorities on the free exercise of the profession and raises serious questions about the safety of journalists in the pre-election period,” he added.
The opposition to President Macky Sall has announced marches and demonstrations in Dakar and throughout the country on Wednesday, Thursday and Monday. Opposition leader Ousmane Sonko is due to appear in court in Dakar on Thursday on charges of defaming a minister.
Authorities have banned many of the planned rallies on Wednesday and Thursday, but the main opposition coalition has said it intends to defy the ban.
As they prepared to make a statement Wednesday on a major thoroughfare in the capital, leaders of the Yewwi Askan wi coalition (YAW, Libérons le peuple in Wolof) were dispersed with tear gas by the gendarmerie, according to footage seen by AFP.
The tensions have considerably slowed down activities in the capital. School and university vacations have been brought forward. Public transport suspended its lines on Wednesday. Banks announced to close early.
Mr. Sonko and his supporters accuse the government of using the justice system to prevent him from running for president in February 2024. The presidential party accuses Mr. Sonko of wanting to paralyze the country and of using the street to escape justice.
Several human rights organizations have expressed concern about the climate of tension in the country, restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression, and have called on President Sall to abandon his bid for a third term, as he has left it unclear whether he will run in 2024.