Rights bodies urge Senegal to respect law
Dakar - International and local rights bodies urged Senegal Saturday to stop clamping down on opposition protests and free those arrested in the past week for demonstrating against President Abdoulaye Wade.
Attempted protests in Dakar in recent days have been banned and dispersed by police using tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon, as tension rises ahead of February 26 presidential elections in which Wade is seeking a third term.
"Senegalese authorities cannot contradict the Senegalese law," said Souhay Belhassen, president of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) in a statement.
"The authorities must come to their senses and allow political and public expression of opponent and citizens, or be seen as an authoritarian regime that is muzzling democracy."
Belhassen said the government justified a ban on protests by a decree published by the prefect of Dakar in July 2011 that barred protests in the centre of the capital.
The ban came shortly after riots last June that rocked the city following attempts by Wade to change the constitution to allow a first-round election victory with 25% of votes, which he later abandoned.
The 85-year-old leader's attempt to seek a third term in office has sparked the most recent protests, with the opposition saying Wade has served his two-term limit and his new bid is unconstitutional.
The FIDH, which released a statement with several local human rights organisations, said the ban on protests was illegal because the electoral code allows candidates to "freely organise meetings and protests" if they gave authorities 24 hour notice.
"On the eve of such an important date for Senegal, the country's highest authorities must act responsibly and calmly, allowing for the free expression of democracy as required by law," read the statement.
The rights bodies said Wade's latest term in office was "marked by regressions in human rights," in reference to the proposed constitutional change, along with violations of civil liberties and judicial independence.