New anti-terrorism laws in Senegal could mean life in prison for sharing ‘criminal’ messages


Senegalese President Macky Sall.

Lionel Mandeix / Senegalese Presidency / AFP

  • The Senegalese parliament adopted two new laws without real debate, according to opposition parties.
  • The government says the laws will help fight terrorism and organized crime online.
  • Activists say the new laws could make the protests even more controversial.

Long celebrated as a beacon of democracy in West Africa, Senegal has passed new laws with sweeping definitions of terrorism, which politicians and opposition activists say could be exploited.

Senegal’s parliament passed the two laws without real debate on June 25, opposition parties said. The opposition reportedly learned of the laws as they were passed and tried to stop them, coming to Parliament and calling for a protest.

Now the opposition politicians are trying to dismantle the law. They approached the Constitutional Council of Senegal to have the laws repealed.

Opposition politicians fear the bill could be used to quell protests as President Macky Sall prepares for a possible third term. Senegal’s constitution only allows two presidential terms, but the opposition fears Sall will use a loophole to run for re-election in 2024.

Sall, however, has refuted claims he is considering re-election, arguing that the new laws are aimed at tackling a security threat in an increasingly turbulent region. The region has seen jihadist insurgent groups fighting across the Sahel, creating cross-border instability. The new laws aim to update Senegalese definitions of terrorism, maritime piracy and transnational organized crime.

Aisha Dabo, from the Dakar-based democracy advocacy group Africtivistes, says:

The problem is not the law being passed, the problem is how the law can be manipulated to put dissidents or opposition leaders in jail.

READ | Do you want to silence young Africans and cling to power? Close the Internet

The laws modernize the existing legal definition of Internet terrorism in Senegal. An information technology offense carries a sentence of up to five years in prison for anyone deemed to be disseminating information that may qualify as terrorism, or anyone deemed to be actively recruiting someone to join these. groups. In some cases, this can go as far as life imprisonment.

Senegal already has specific laws regulating the online space, Dado says. She fears the new laws will be used to criminalize such a broad statement as a post on Facebook by a frustrated citizen. Activists also fear that the new laws will prevent peaceful protests.

“While the authorities have legitimate concerns about the growing influence of Islamist armed groups in the Sahel region and the threat they may pose to Senegal, they should ensure that the laws are not used to suppress them. fundamental rights, ”said Ilaria Allegrozzi, senior researcher on Africa. to Human Rights Watch.

“From now on, if it is necessary to organize a march, in addition to the authorization, it is necessary to have control over those who will respond and to ensure that there will be no ruptures”, assures the lawyer Manou Diokh . “If, however, there is destruction of property of others during the demonstration, you risk falling under the designation of terrorist.”

The laws can also punish anyone accused of sharing information related to a person or organization considered “seriously disturbing public order”, explains Diokh, a specialist in computer law. This too is still open to wide interpretation.

READ | Troubles in Senegal: opposition leader expected in court as country prepares for new protests

The new laws come months after Senegal saw some of its most violent protests. Demonstrating against the arrest of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, young people looted supermarkets and looted gas stations.

The 46-year-old politician, popular with young people, is accused of sexually assaulting a massage therapist. His supporters believe the charges were fabricated to prevent him from running in the next election.

At least five people were killed. A commission was set up to investigate the deaths, but nothing came of it. Instead, the laws have become “tougher” under Sall, Dabo says.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced by the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained therein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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