Senegal’s leading opposition politician and presidential aspirant Ousmane Sonko on Thursday received a two-month suspended prison sentence for libel in a case involving the tourism minister, the minister’s lawyer El Hadji Diouf said.
The sentence will not prevent him from running in elections next year – an apparent effort by authorities to defuse a stand-off with his supporters, who have repeatedly taken to the streets to denounce what they say is a politically motivated campaign.
“It is a verdict of appeasement,” said another lawyer also representing the tourism minister, Pierre-Olivier Sur.
“The sentence is moderate to the extent that it does not remove his (Sonko’s) civil and political liberties and the right to remain in the political debate.”
In a statement, Sonko’s party, Pastef, dismissed the court proceedings as a “show trial”.
Sonko, 48, had been charged with libel for accusing the tourism minister of embezzlement. He denied wrongdoing and previously said the charges against him were a tactic to eliminate him from the presidential race. The government denies this accusation.
In addition to the suspended sentence, Sonko was ordered to pay 200 million CFA francs ($332,000), Diouf told Reuters.
The libel trial, and another separate case in which Sonko is charged with sexual abuse, have spurred violent protests across the country. Sonko has also denied wrongdoing in the sexual abuse case.
He called for nationwide protests on Wednesday and Thursday – the day the libel case was set to resume – as well as on April 3.