Jailed Senegal opposition leader suffers court setbacks

By Ngouda Dione and Diadie Ba

DAKAR (Reuters) – The presidential ambitions of jailed Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko suffered two setbacks on Friday after the Supreme Court annulled a lower court’s decision ordering his reinstatement in the voter roll.

Separately, a West African regional court backed the government of Senegal in a legal battle with Sonko, who had filed a case claiming the state violated his human rights.

Sonko, 49, has faced a flurry of court cases over the past two years for charges including libel and rape, which he denies.

He was arrested in July for insurrection, the government dissolved his party, and he has been struck off the electoral roll, ruling him out of a presidential election next February.

A court in the southern town of Ziguinchor where his is the mayor, had ruled last month that Sonko should be reinstated in the voter roll and sponsorship sheets for the presidential election be handed to him, enabling him to run in the vote.

Following an appeal by the state, the Supreme Court annulled the Ziguinchor court, asking for the case to be decided afresh by a court of appeal in the capital, Dakar.

“I note that the court has transferred the baby to another jurisdiction, while there is no deadline set,” Sonko’s lawyer Cire Cledor Ly told journalists outside the court.

“We are moving towards a situation where Sonko will be prevented from getting the sponsorship sheet and submitting his candidacy (for the election),” he said.

Earlier, the Community Court of Justice of the regional ECOWOS bloc rejected Sonko’s claim that the state has treated him unfairly.

Sonko’s charges and arrests have become a flashpoint in Senegal, triggering rioting this year in which at least 16 people died – the worst unrest in decades in the largely peaceful West African country.

His supporters say the charges are politically motivated and are part of President Macky Sall’s serial targeting of political opponents, which Sall denies. Sonko has gone on hunger strikes in protest and has been admitted to hospital on occasion.

(Reporting by Ngouda Dione and Diadie Ba; Writing by Sofia Christensen and Bate Felix; Editing by Edward McAllister, Angus MacSwan and Andrew Heavens)