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HRW urges investigation into Senegal protester deaths


Protesters run and cover their faces amid teargas during a protest in Dakar on March 8, 2021, after the country’s opposition leader Ousmane Sonko was charged with rape. – Usually considered a beacon of stability in a volatile region, deadly clashes between opposition supporters and security forces have rocked the West African state. (Photo by JOHN WESSELS / AFP)

Human Rights Watch on Friday urged Senegal to launch an independent investigation into the deaths of protesters during the unrest that rocked the usually tranquil West African state last week.

At least five people were killed in clashes across the country, according to an AFP tally, in violence that was sparked on March 3 when police arrested opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.


The unrest continued through March 8, however, and there are conflicting accounts of the number of people who died.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement that at least ten people were killed during the demonstrations, for example. The opposition has put the death toll at 11.

“The recent deaths and injuries of protesters should be credibly investigated,” said Ida Sawyer, the Human Rights Watch deputy Africa director.


“Security-force members responsible for unlawful or excessive use of force should be held to account,” she added.

Sonko, a 46-year-old government critic popular with young Senegalese, was arrested on his way to court last week to answer questions in a rape case.

A court in the capital Dakar subsequently freed him from detention on Monday but nonetheless charged him with rape.


Sonko came third in 2019’s presidential election and is considered a contender to replace President Macky Sall in 2024.

But his political future was thrown into doubt last month after a beauty salon employee accused him of raping her.

Sonko has denied wrongdoing and has accused Sall of manufacturing the charge to sideline him from politics.

After his release on Monday, the opposition leader said “the revolution has already started and nobody can stop it.”


Another protest, designed to push for the release of what the opposition terms political prisoners, is due to take place in Dakar on Saturday.

Human Rights Watch also called on the government to release “those held because of their political beliefs or participation in peaceful activities”.

Senegal, a poor nation of 16 million people, is often considered a beacon of stability in an otherwise volatile part of the world.


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