The high-profile case involving opposition leader Ousmane Sonko has dismayed feminists as they await a verdict.
A rape case against Senegal’s most prominent opposition leader has dismayed feminists in the country, who now fear that their cause has suffered an enduring blow.
After a politicised trial marked by salacious headlines, the West African state is bracing for potential violence on Thursday when the verdict is expected to be announced.
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The case revolves around Ousmane Sonko, a firebrand politician whose attacks on Senegal’s elite have drawn a huge following among young people. The 48-year-old is accused of raping Adij Sarr, 23, a beauty salon employee, and issuing death threats against her. He has denied the allegations.
In the run-up to Thursday’s hearing, he called on the public to protest en masse.
Some feminists said the two-year-old case has sidestepped a rare chance to advance the rights of victims of sexual violence. Others worried it will mark a step backwards in the long struggle for female empowerment in the West African state.
“This trial is a huge setback that will leave its mark on the history of women’s rights,” said Aminata Libain Mbengue of the Feminists’ Network of Senegal (RFS).
Sonko says the case is part of a plot by President Macky Sall to scuttle his ambitions for the 2024 elections. His critics call him a rabble-rouser who is seeking to evade justice.
When Sonko was charged in 2021, riots and looting erupted and killed a dozen people.
Sarr was forced into hiding after facing relentless threats and insults. Now she only leaves her home under police escort.
“Whatever the verdict, [she] has already been given life imprisonment,” Mbengue said. “She has lost all freedom.”