The presidential ambition of Senegal’s main opposition politician Ousmane Sonko has been dealt a blow after he lost a court appeal in his defamation conviction.
The Supreme court of Senegal ruled to uphold the six-month suspended sentence following a more than 12-hour hearing.
The ruling puts Sonko’s presidential ambition ahead of next month’s election in limbo.
“The sentence and fines have been confirmed. Sonko lost on all counts,” State prosecutor, El Hadji Diouf said on Friday.
He added that Sonko was “now totally banned from taking part in an election”.
Senegalese law does not allow Sonko to compete in the presidential race while such a conviction is upheld.
Sonko placed third in Senegal’s 2019 presidential election and was seen as the main challenger in the race to succeed President Macky Sall.
Macky Sall has announced that he won’t be seeking a controversial third mandate after months of speculations and tension.
Sonko’s legal team said it won’t give up and would fight on. “The fight will continue,” his lawyer Cire Cledor Ly told reporters outside the court building in the capital, Dakar.
The 49-year-old filed his candidacy papers last month, while in custody, to compete in the February 25 elections.
In jail for insurrection
He has been in jail since July after his arrest on insurrection charges, when he was also struck off the country’s electoral rolls.
In December, a court in the southern city of Zinguichor, where Sonko is mayor, ordered that he be reinstated on the electoral register.
Sonko has faced multiple court cases over the past two years for charges including libel and rape, which he denies. The cases against him have triggered deadly violence in the West African nation.
Sonko was accused of rape in 2021, sparking deadly unrest across the country that has since flared up sporadically over various court decisions.
He has denied any wrongdoing and claimed all charges against him are politically motivated. The government, which accuses Sonko of stoking violence, dissolved his Patriots of Senegal (PASTEF) party in July.
“No one doubts the political aspect of this affair which aims to eliminate the leader of the opposition,” said PASTEF spokesperson El Malick Ndiaye on the latest ruling.
“ Sonko still remains in the race,” he said on national radio.