As court resumed on Tuesday, the highly controversial and widely popular opposition leader Ousmane Sonko failed to attend proceedings for the second time running, leaving many perplexed.
The police in the capital city of Dakar placed a security cordon around the courtroom, indicating their fear of possible clashes due to the case. The trial, on rape charges, had previously been adjourned on 16 May after Sonko’s failure to attend.
Sonko has labeled the trial as a political plot to ruin his chances of running for the presidency in 2024. The charges against him include rape and making death threats against an employee at a beauty salon in Dakar, which he vehemently denies. He alleges that he simply visited the salon for a massage to soothe his chronic back pain.
Although Sonko demanded guarantees for his safety before attending the trial, he is now believed to be in the southern city of Ziguinchor, hundreds of kilometers from Dakar, where he serves as the mayor. Senegal, typically known for its stability, has experienced turbulent times recently, leading to deadly protests when Sonko was arrested in 2021, leaving 12 people dead.
Additionally, three other people died during clashes between Sonko supporters and police ahead of the 16 May proceedings.
Sonko, the president of the PASTEF-Patriots party, came in third in the 2019 presidential election against incumbent Macky Sall. Political tensions have risen further with Sall’s refusal to rule out running for a third term as president, which his opponents argue would be unconstitutional. In March, Sonko received a six-month suspended prison sentence for defamation and insults against the tourism minister.