Senegal court jails opposition activist

2011-10-20 17:09

Dakar - A court in Senegal jailed an opposition activist on Thursday for two years after convicting him of having issued a death threat and for contempt of court over an open letter he wrote to senior judges.

Malick Noel Seck was convicted over the contents of the letter, in which he denounced the "immoral" silence of judges over President Abdoulaye Wade's decision to run for a controversial third presidential term in 2012.

Opposition leaders denounced the sentence and Seck's lawyers said they would appeal.

Judge Pape Moussa Toure read the judgement in a packed courtroom, although Seck himself was not present. Police and gendarmes deployed around Dakar ahead of the court's decision.

Seck, secretary general of the Socialist Convergence, a movement linked to the opposition Socialist Party, was accused of threatening and insulting the Constitutional Council in the letter, which he delivered on October 10.

"We come to remind you today of the tacit oath you made to the Senegalese people... it appears to us today that you have failed to honour your commitments and your word," Seck wrote in the letter, seen by AFP.

"Wade must fall, Senegal's honour demands it! We have come to you to show our resentment and hold you responsible for our daily suffering... tomorrow, when the word hits the street, even more of us will come to hold you accountable."

Socialist Party spokesperson Abdoulaye Wilane accused the judge of being "heavy-handed".

"The government is desperate and Malick Noel Seck is a political prisoner, a hostage, a prisoner of conscience."

Defence lawyer Moussa Bocar Thiam said he was surprised by the court's decision which "bears no relation to the charges against him."

"Must the Senegalese trust a justice system like this one? We are going to appeal, we hope the appeals court judges will make a wiser decision," he told AFP.

Wade, 85, was elected for a first seven-year term in 2000 and re-elected for five years in 2007, after a constitutional amendment reduced the mandate by two years.

He has since said he will seek another term, his supporters arguing that the change affords him the right to two five-year terms.

The Constitutional Council will decide the validity of his candidature in January, ahead of the election on February 26.

But Wade's decision to run again has led opposition parties and rights groups to take to the streets in protest.

On June 23, riots broke out when parliament was debating a bill proposing changes to election laws, leaving more than a hundred people injured.

The proposed changes would have added a vice president to the presidential ticket and dropped the winning threshold for a first-round victory to 25% of the votes from the current 50%.

The bill was shelved in the wake of the protests at home -- and harsh criticism from abroad.

In a recent interview with a Senegalese newspaper Wade said he was a fine candidate and would "knock out" his opponents in the first round.

Thursday's sentence comes ahead of a protest planned Saturday in Thies, in the east of the capital, by the June 23 Movement, a coalition formed in the wake of the riots.

The opposition movement has given Wade until the end of October to withdraw his candidature, threatening greater protests if he does not.