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Senegal opposition leader Sonko’s lawyer files a lawsuit in France and calls for an ICC inquiry

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — A lawyer for embattled Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko filed a criminal complaint in a French court on Thursday and also called for the International Criminal Court to investigate the Senegalese government’s recent deadly crackdown on protesters.

The 168-page document accuses President Macky Sall and others of “crimes against humanity.” It comes in the wake of deadly protests earlier this month, sparked by criminal charges against Sonko that critics believe were politically motivated.

The court filing, which was presented at a news conference on Thursday in Paris, details 50 deaths since March 2021. It names Senegal’s president, interior minister, the head of police, along with more than 100 other Senegalese and French officials, as being complicit in “politically motivated violence against unarmed demonstrators, activists, journalists, lawyers and ordinary citizens.”

“This fits all the criteria of the ICC of crimes against humanity in terms of gravity, in terms of jurisdiction,” said Sonko’s lawyer, Juan Branco, in an interview with The Associated Press.

Branco, who compiled and presented more than 600 pieces of evidence in the official complaint, previously represented WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and members of the Gilets Jaunes movement in France.

Senegal’s government didn’t immediately release a reaction to Thursday’s court filing, but authorities have denied that police actions have amounted to excessive force.

Branco cited multiple reasons for filing the complaint in France, including the fact that several of the people harmed by the government response were dual citizens of France and Senegal. The move is also intended to circumvent what they see as a corrupt justice system in Senegal.

“These are the jurisdictions that the people we’re targeting fear,” Branco said.

Sonko’s team said that it’s hopeful the ICC prosecutor will take the case seriously given the strength and scope of the evidence.

“We really expect him to open immediately a preliminary examination on the case of Senegal,” Branco said. “And we think he has sufficient evidence at this stage to actually go to the pretrial chamber and ask to open an investigation.”

Sonko, long seen as the greatest political threat to Senegal’s ruling party in next year’s presidential election, now faces disqualification after being handed a two-year prison sentence earlier this month following his conviction on charges of corrupting youth.

In another case brought against him, the opposition leader was acquitted on charges of raping a woman who worked at a massage parlor and making death threats against her.

Authorities have said that Sonko can ask for a retrial once he is imprisoned. An arrest warrant hasn’t yet been issued and it’s unclear when he might be taken into custody.

Graphic novels are displayed for sale at a bookstore in New York City on Sunday, October 8, 2023. On Tuesday, the Commerce Department releases U.S. retail sales data for September. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
Graphic novels are displayed for sale at a bookstore in New York City on Sunday, October 8, 2023. On Tuesday, the Commerce Department releases U.S. retail sales data for September. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

Sonko’s supporters maintain that the legal woes are part of a government effort to derail his candidacy, and his conviction provoked demonstrations throughout the West African nation.

Sonko, who placed third in Senegal’s 2019 presidential election and is popular with the country’s youth, also has called on the incumbent president to state publicly that he won’t seek a third term in office. But Sall hasn’t yet done so.

Sall, who is in Paris this week to meet European officials at a climate finance conference, has hinted at — but not confirmed — that he’s interested in another term, which critics say would be unconstitutional.

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