International human rights organisation, Amnesty International, has called for restraint in Senegal over excessive use of force on protesters during a country-wide demonstration resulting in the death of eight persons last week.
The call follows an announcement by Senegal’s Movement to Defend Democracy (M2D), a group of opposition parties and activists, that a three-day country-wide protest would start today, March 8.
Samira Daoud, Amnesty International West and Central Africa Director, called on Senegalese authorities to launch impartial investigations into the circumstances of these deaths and urged them to ensure people can safely exercise their right to peaceful assembly, as protected under the country’s constitution and international law.
“The use of force by security forces must be exercised with restraint, only when necessary and in a proportional manner. Firearms must only be used as a last resort when strictly necessary to protect against the imminent threat of death or serious injury,” Amnesty International said in a statement on Monday.
“Members of the security forces who use excessive force or unlawful lethal force must be prosecuted according to law.”
“Security forces policing demonstrations must wear distinctive uniforms that clearly identify them as such. Individuals in plain clothes armed with sticks, clubs and guns at several sites were observed beating up protesters during last week’s protests in full view of security forces and even using firearms in some parts of the capital. Authorities must also investigate the presence and role of these individuals.”
The protests in Senegal started after Ousmane Sonko, a leading opposition figure, was arrested on Wednesday, March 3, and charged with disturbing public order and participating in an unauthorised demonstration, while on his way to court to respond to a summon from a judge in a separate criminal case.
After his arrest, Sonko appeared before a judge without his lawyers on Friday, March 5. He was charged with “calling for an insurrection”. He was released from custody on Sunday with two of his supporters.
In Dakar, protesters were on Friday, March 5, prevented from accessing their planned venue by a heavy police deployment. This led to clashes between security forces and demonstrators in several areas. According to the Senegalese Red Cross, 235 people were injured during the protests.
According to media reports, around 100 people have been arrested since March 3 including six members of the activist group ‘’Y’en a Marre’’. Among them the rapper and founding member, Cheikh Oumar Touré “Thiat”.
The Minister of Home Affairs, in a TV statement, called the protests “acts of terror and banditry” and denounced the presence of “occult forces” behind the demonstrations.
He has not announced an investigation into the deaths linked to the protests, nor the circumstances under which they occurred. He has also stressed that protests are illegal in Senegal due to the state of a health emergency, linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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