The Senegalese Supreme Court confirmed, Thursday, January 4, just before midnight, the sentencing of imprisoned opponent Ousmane Sonko to six months in prison for defamation. The announcement was made by judge Abdourahmane Diouf and confirmed by two lawyers for the opponent, declared candidate for the presidential election on February 25, and central figure in a standoff of more than two years with the State which gave rise to several episodes of deadly unrest.

“We confirmed the penalty and damages. Sonko lost all the way. It is now completely forbidden to participate in an election,” reacted state lawyer El Hadji Diouf after the decision. Mr. Sonko’s lawyers dodged the question regarding their client’s eligibility while this conviction is seen as excluding him from the February electoral competition. The Constitutional Council should decide the question soon.

Ousmane Sonko, 49, third in the 2019 presidential election, was sued by the Minister of Tourism, Mame Mbaye Niang, for “defamation, insults and forgery”. He was sentenced in March, at first instance, to two months’ suspended prison sentence and 200 million CFA francs (300,000 euros) in damages. On appeal in May, and in the absence of Mr. Sonko, the courts toughened the prison sentence by increasing it to six months suspended.

More than twelve hours of debate

After more than twelve hours of debate, the Supreme Court confirmed this sentence given on appeal, which seriously compromises the opponent’s chances of participating in the presidential election. The Supreme Court’s decision closes this case.

Sonko’s camp had regained hope in a candidacy from their leader after a judge ordered his re-registration on the electoral lists in mid-December, confirming a decision rendered in October by the court of Ziguinchor (South) which had was overturned by the Supreme Court. He was inaugurated on Sunday by his coalition for the presidential election in a private place, behind closed doors, after the authorities banned the public meeting planned for Saturday.

Despite the administration’s refusal to provide Mr. Sonko with the necessary documents, the opponent submitted his application to the Constitutional Council. His representative must appear before the jurisdiction’s sponsorship control commission on Friday.

Convicted in other cases

On Wednesday, this body validated the file of Habib Sy, a candidate from the same political side as Mr. Sonko, who promised to withdraw if the leader of his party can run. Another plan B of his formation whose file was examined on Thursday, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, must regularize his situation concerning his sponsorships to participate in the ballot.

“This trial is the match point. We are bound by deadlines,” Me Cheikh Koureyssi Ba, one of the opponent’s counsel, declared at the hearing. “This affair is an operation of political liquidation of an adversary, with a timetable where we count the days to say that such and such a person will not participate in the presidential election. Mr. President, I hope that this political order will not pass before you,” said Me Massokhna Kane, closing the pleadings of Mr. Sonko’s lawyers.

In another proceeding, Mr. Sonko was found guilty on June 1 of debauchery of a minor and sentenced to two years in prison. The opponent did not appear at the trial and was convicted in absentia. He has been imprisoned since the end of July on other charges, including calling for insurrection, and denounces all these affairs as plots aimed at excluding him from the presidential election.