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Sonko stays out of jail, his supporters are off the streets

A more lenient sentence on the opposition leader than expected allows the authorities to dampen down the protests

Opposition leader Ousmane Sonko's plans to contest next year's presidential elections remain intact despite losing a defamation case for accusing tourism minister Mame Mbaye Niang of embezzlement (AC Vol 64 No 7, Sonko and the street take battle to Sall).

Sonko received a two-month suspended prison sentence on 31 March in what his supporters are reading as an apparent effort by authorities to defuse more mass protests. The sentence will not prevent him from being a candidate and probably the main challenger to President Macky Sall next year. Pierre-Olivier Sur, a member of Niang's legal team lawyer, seems to concur with the opposition view having described the ruling as 'a verdict of appeasement,' and 'moderate to the extent that it does not remove his Sonko's civil and political liberties and the right to remain in the political debate.'

Sonko's Patriotes du Sénégal pour le travail, l'éthique et la fraternité (Pastef), had threatened to take to the streets if he had been sentenced to jail with major nationwide protests planned ahead of Independence Day on 3 April. Sonko was also ordered to pay 200 million CFA francs ($332,000). 

That marks the first legal hurdle facing Sonko before the first round of the presidential elections next February. Far more serious are the rape charges resulting from accusations made by a masseuse, Adji Sarr, in February 2021, and which are set to go to trial later this year. Sonko denies the charges which he and his supporters say are politically motivated.

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