Social media and messaging platforms in Senegal have been blocked following violent protests over the sentencing of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko. The unrest resulted in the death of at least nine people as Sonko’s supporters clashed with police.
Sonko received a two-year jail sentence for immoral behavior, but was acquitted of rape charges. His conviction has sparked fears among his supporters that he may be barred from running in next year’s presidential election. His residence in Dakar is currently surrounded by police, preventing even his lawyers from visiting him.
The government has imposed restrictions on social media to prevent the spread of “hate and subversive messages,” according to Interior Minister Antoine Félix Diome. This move has caused public discontent, as popular apps like Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp are affected. While these platforms can be accessed via a virtual private network (VPN), not everyone is familiar with this software.
Sonko, who is particularly popular among unemployed youth, has seen a rapid political rise in recent years. The government has dismissed allegations that the case against Sonko, and others he has faced, were politically motivated. The political tension is further exacerbated by suspicions that President Macky Sall plans to pursue an unconstitutional third term.