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Election Delay in Senegal Puts Rights at Risk

Ensure Fundamental Freedoms, Rein in Security Forces and Restore Internet

Gendarmes clash with Senegalese demonstrators during a protest against the postponement of the February 25th presidential election, in Dakar, Senegal, February 4, 2024. © 2024 Cooper Inveen/Reuters

On February 3, Senegal’s President Macky Sall announced that presidential elections, slated for February 25, would be delayed indefinitely. The decision came one day before the official campaign was to begin and increases the risks of further crackdown against opponents.

This marks the first time in Senegal’s history that elections have been delayed. In announcing the postponement, Sall cited an institutional crisis that he said could damage the election’s credibility. He also reiterated his commitment not to run himself.

In January, a constitutional council decided to exclude several candidates, including prominent opposition leader Ousman Sonko and Karim Wade, son of former President Abdoulaye Wade, from the race. Senegal’s parliament set up a commission of inquiry to probe the council's handling of the vetting process amid accusations of corruption against at least two of the council’s judges.

“It is a leap into the void,” said prominent human rights activist Alioune Tine. “The brutal, unconstitutional delay of the election plunges Senegal into uncertainty and violence.”

On February 4, security forces fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters who took to the streets in Dakar, Senegal’s capital, to protest Sall’s decision. Gendarmes arrested scores of protesters, including former prime minister and opposition presidential candidate Aminata Touré, and presidential candidate Anta Babacar Ngom, who were released the next day. Presidential candidate Daouda Ndaiye told Human Rights Watch gendarmes beat and brutalized him during the protest. On February 5, security forces again used tear gas to disperse opposition members and activists gathered outside Senegal's national assembly as parliamentarians met to vote on the elections’ postponement.

Human Rights Watch has previously documented security forces’ use of excessive force, including firing live ammunition and tear gas to disperse protesters. At least 37 people have been killed during violent clashes since March 2021 with no accountability.

On February 4, Senegal’s minister of communication pulled the privately-owned Walf TV channel off the air for “inciting violence,” and announced restrictions to mobile internet citing security concerns.

Senegal has long been considered a beacon of democracy in the region. This is now at risk. Authorities need to act to prevent violence, rein in abusive security forces, and end their assault on opposition and media. They should respect freedom of speech, expression, and assembly, and restore internet, putting Senegal back on its democratic course. 

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