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UN Slams Senegal Protest Suppression

FILE: A supporter of Senegal opposition leader Ousmane Sonko walks near a burning barricade during clashes with security forces after Sonko was sentenced to prison, in Dakar, Senegal, on June 3, 2023.

GENEVA — The United Nations Tuesday condemned the use of firearms to quell protests in Senegal, calling for an independent probe and punishment for the perpetrators.

"The use of firearms by security forces during protests sets a negative precedent for Senegal," U.N. rights office spokesman Seif Magango told reporters in Geneva.

He noted that Senegal had launched investigations into the incidents but added that the U.N. rights office wanted a "prompt, independent and thorough" probe and punishment for those responsible "regardless of their status and political affiliation."

"We offer our office's assistance in this respect," Magango stated.

Around 23 people died, according to Amnesty International figures "including some by gunfire," while the government says 16 people perished in the unrest.

The U.N. rights office said "at least" 16 people were killed in last week's violence, while 350 were injured and more than 500 arrested during the three days of protests.

"We are also concerned about continuing restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in the wake of the protests," Magango said.

He highlighted the situation of private broadcaster Walfadjiri TV, which had been covering the protests live, before it "was suspended on June 1 without clear legal justification and remains off air to date".

The U.N. rights office also pointed out that internet services had been restricted between June 1 and 6, ostensibly to stop the "dissemination of hateful and subversive messages".

"Internet restrictions must be grounded in unambiguous, publicly available law; must be necessary to achieve a legitimate aim," Magango said.

The June 1-3 violence was sparked by a two-year sentence on opposition figurehead Ousmane Sonko for "corrupting" a young woman, making him ineligible to contest presidential polls next year.

He was initially charged with rape but was convicted on a lesser charge of morally "corrupting" a young woman in a case that lasted two years.

Sonko accuses President Macky Sall of trying to install a "dictatorship" at the apex of a corrupt elite.

Sonko, a 48-year-old former tax inspector, has spoken out against debt, poverty, food insecurity, under-funded health and education systems and corruption.