Friday, June 21, 2024

Senegalese Condemn Restriction Of Social Media Over Unrest

The Senegalese government has acknowledged that it restricted access to social networks Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter in order to stop “the dissemination of hateful and subversive messages”.

While overnight clashes in Senegal on Saturday brought the death toll to 15 in the two days since a court convicted opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, the government was actively working to prevent the news from circulating online.

Sonko’s ongoing legal woes have prompted rare flare-ups of violence in Senegal, typically a bastion of stability in West Africa, and foreign allies have urged a return to calm.

Sonko, a 48-year-old former tax inspector, may be cut out of the 2024 presidential race following a two years prison sentence.

Clashes between Sonko’s supporters and police broke out after the ruling on Thursday, leaving nine people dead. Shops and businesses were ransacked.

Read Also :Protests Erupt In Senegal Following Sonko Sentencing

The army was deployed to the streets but fresh scuffles erupted on Friday night in parts of the capital, Dakar, and in Ziguinchor.

They left another six dead, government spokesman Maham Ka said .

Burned-out cars, tyres and debris-strewn streets bore testimony to another night of violence.

Government spokesman Abdou Karim Fofana said on Friday that the violence was not fuelled by “political demands” but “acts of vandalism and banditry”.

“These are difficult times for the Senegal nation that we will overcome,” he told TFM.

On social media, the Senegal conversation is starting a little late and people are blaming Twitter CEO, Elon Musk for shadow-banning the relevant hashtags.

Sonko, who was tried in absentia, has yet to be taken into custody for his jail term, which is predicted to cause further tensions.

He is presumed to be at his Dakar home, where security forces have blocked him since the weekend. He alleges he is being “illegally held”.

Sharp-tongued and charismatic, Sonko has drawn a strong following among Senegal’s youth, who love his barbs against a political elite he refers to as the “state mafia”.

He has spoken out against debt, poverty, food insecurity, under-funded health and education systems and corruption.

Sonko, who has two wives, portrays himself as a devout Muslim and defender of traditional values and has called for harsher penalties for same-sex relations.

However, supporters of President Macky Sall see him as a rabble-rouser who has poisoned political discourse and sown instability.

Another group, facing the uncertainty of unrest are Senegalese Students, forced to leave the capital’s main university campus after violent clashes lead to widespread destruction.

On Friday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the violence and “urged all those involved to… exercise restraint”.

The African Union said the head of its executive commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, strongly condemned the violence and urged leaders to avoid acts which “tarnish the face of Senegalese democracy, of which Africa has always been proud”.

The European Union and Senegal’s former colonial power France also expressed concern over the violence.

Rights group Amnesty International has urged authorities to stop “arbitrary arrests” and lift restrictions on access to social networks.

Now that the country has banned access to social media platforms, users blame platform owners for the delay.

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