Senegal: More than 1,000 political detainees are still languishing in jails reminiscent of slavery

The stories of recently released political detainees send chills down your spine. Practices are reminiscent of slavery, but this time, it is not the French but native Senegalese citizens who are the executioners. Cells are packed to the point where some stand up all night to let the youngest sleep sitting down.

All victims of a series of arrests started in 2021, some of them spent more than two years in prison for a post on social media, for demonstrating against the government of Macky Sall, for being a member of the opposition political party of Pastef or quite simply for having had the audacity to go about their business in a country that claims to be democratic.

The accusations are similar: disturbance of public order, acts to compromise state security, participation in an unauthorized demonstration, terrorism… The list is long.

One of the released detainees explained that he had the same charges as Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, apart from theft. Sonko, arrested in July 2023, has seven charges:

1- Call for insurrection,

2- Association of criminals,

3- Attack on state security,

4- Conspiracy against the authority of the State,

5- Acts and maneuvers to compromise public security and create severe political unrest,

6- Association of criminals linked to a terrorist enterprise,

7- Mobile phone theft.

During the release wave that began on February 15, 2024, more than 300 inmates were released without explanation and ordered to leave Rebeuss Prison. They left behind over 1,000 Senegalese citizens crammed by the hundreds into 10-square-meter cells. Although they are happy to be out, the released promised those they call their brothers left behind that they will get them out.

Seydi Gassama of Amnesty International laments the number of political detainees under the government of Macky Sall, which he estimated last October at 1,500.

“More than 60 Senegalese citizens were killed since 2021 and 250 arrested since Saturday,” said the human rights specialist. “There are minors detained without reason. One of them obtained his certificate in prison. A request for his release was made but was rejected. This is not about justice. They only want to humiliate them and create psychosis in the community so that no one dares to come out or protest. The way the police behave reminds us of the colonial days. Their attitude is the same as that of the colonial police. »

Gassama adds that: “the problem is Dakar. It is in Dakar that we systematically send people for investigation because the government knows that if people are sent directly to the judge, he will release them, so the government sends them for investigation. Under investigation, they can remain in jail for six months without being heard on the merits and without the possibility of requesting provisional release. The Dakar public prosecutor’s office, the investigating judges in Dakar, and three or four offices in Dakar, Pikine, and Rufisque are committed to punishing the demonstrators. »

For those who had a forced stay in Rebeuss or at Cap Manuel, their lives are changed forever with an ordeal lived for months, and yet they are more motivated than ever to continue to fight to take Macky Sall’s government out and hold those responsible for the abuses committed accountable.

Former political detainee Diop Taïf considers this period to be one of the darkest moments in Senegal’s history. He has been campaigning for prisoners since his release and did not fail during his speech to the press to draw attention to several detained citizens who are seriously ill but whom the prison administration refuses to release, notably the case of Ahmet Missane, Mor Seye, Mor Cissé, and Azoura Fall.

Diop Taïf also highlighted the ordeal that families are experiencing.

“These women have to line up at 5 a.m. in front of Rebeuss Prison to see their child in the afternoon, at around 2-3 p.m. Last time, a parent came all the way from the Tamba region but could not get a visit permit. »

“And when the inmates discouraged by Macky Sall’s speech postponing the elections became agitated within the prison, the prison administration threw tear gas into an already overcrowded cell,” he added.

Lamine Niasss, a Tik-Toker from Mbour in his twenties, was arrested in Dakar on March 16, 2023, and released on January 29, 2024. He spent 314 days in prison and now complains about back problems for having lived for almost a year in an overcrowded cell. He explains that he chose to stay and fight for a better tomorrow in a country where the government, which is supposed to help them, imprisons innocent people like them, with killers and drug sellers. He demands his constitutional right to demonstrate.

Imam Alioune Badara Ndao was apprehended near Colobane a few days before a trip abroad. Questioned by the police, he shows them documents proving that he came from an appointment, but they do not believe him. He will be tortured and thrown in prison for eight months. At the time of his arrest, his wife was five months pregnant. His child will be born during his absence. He lost his ticket and the investment linked to his trip. Since his release, he has been in and out of the hospital.

“Anyone leaving prison will have to go to the hospital for treatment. We are all sick, and we have no more money. I was supposed to travel. All the money invested went up in smoke. I was arrested, put in prison for eight months, and one fine day, they told me to leave. They told me I didn’t do anything. “

Mohamadou Mansour Fall was cornered by the police at Cité Gorgui while he was going about his business. He will be taken to the Ouakam police station before being transferred to prison on March 21, 2023, leaving behind a henhouse of 1,500 heads who will all perish in his absence.

Mohamed Tamba wears an electronic bracelet after serving 11 months in prison. The student was apprehended on March 16, 2023, by an officer who confessed that he would not be released until 2024. His school is in Diourbel, but his electronic bracelet limits his movements to Dakar. Before his arrest, he was planning on taking his exam in 2023. He considers his right to education violated.

Cheikh Oumar Kassé spent eight months at Rebeuss. He was taken into custody by the Colobane Research Section while visiting the family of political detainee Ami Dia. It was in the latter’s brother’s room that he was brutalized, then taken away, and accused of participation in an unauthorized demonstration and of acts to compromise the security of the State. He considers his arrest an injustice.

“Relaxing us is not an achievement,” he said. “We should never have been arrested in the first place. »

Anta Laye Fall found herself in the women’s remand center for passing by the obelisk monument on her way to Ouakam and having a Pastef party bracelet in her handbag. She was accused of participating in an unauthorized demonstration and disturbing public order. Anta Laye Fall fell ill in prison two days before the president’s speech repealing the decree convening the electoral body. Released three days ago, she now has diabetes and cannot sleep a wink.

Adama Sy Massané, from the social section of Pastef, listed 305 released detainees, including two minors. Her team, responsible for providing support to incarcerated members and their families, explains that some leave prison paralyzed.

Linguere Wouly NDiaye, the coordinator of Pastef Linguère, was picked up in June 2023 at her home in the presence of her two young children. Police will force her to leave them behind without supervision and charge her with calling for insurrection and participating in an unauthorized demonstration before releasing her this week.

A young Guinean tailor who returned from his country after his wife gave birth was arrested two days later downtown in March 2023. He will remain imprisoned for six months and twenty days, accused of criminal association and participation in an unauthorized demonstration.

“I came from Guinea to work. I work with Adama Paris. The secretary called to tell me there were demonstrations and that it would be safer for me to go home. On the way back, I got stopped. I had 100,000 CFA on me and one of my phones. They returned my phone, but I did not see the 100,000 CFA. They released me, but I have an electronic bracelet on. It hurts my foot that is now swollen. »

Aissatou Gadiaga has had her son in Rebeuss for nine months. He was arrested on his way to work. She comes from the suburbs daily to see him and bring him food or clothes. She prays that he will be released soon. The trips back and forth are expensive, and she worries about her son.

Ndeye Maguette Thiam, municipal councilor, and member of Taxawu Dakar, helplessly saw her son, a member of Pastef, being arrested in the middle of the night.

“They broke the door around 3-4 a.m. to arrest my son because he had organized a party for Ousmane Sonko’s birthday,” Ms. Thiam cried. “Several members of my family were members of the APR, but Macky Sall lost them the day they arrested my son. » She says she has been receiving threats since.

Jacques Habib Sy, from Ousmane Sonko’s cabinet, outraged by the current climate in the country, declared during the same press conference:

“I am 78, but I have never seen what is happening in this country. We are dealing with a dictatorship—2000 political prisoners. I have never seen a country in Africa imprison so many of its children. »

Mamadou Dia has just been released. He says he was tortured and lived in difficult conditions, but has no regrets.

“It’s not easy to have someone like Ousmane Sonko,” exclaimed Mamadou Dia. “We are lucky to live in his time. What happened to us is unfair because we didn’t do anything wrong. Judge Babacar Diop told me he knew we were not bandits, but the decision came from above, and he could do nothing about it. »

Arrested on July 31, he was also accused of having caused a fire on the highway on August 1st.

Souleymane Djim, a member of the collective of families of political detainees, is revolted by the situation.

“The detainees have been living in an unbearable situation for two years. The parents of the detainees have been living in an unbearable situation for two years,” denounces Souleymane Djim.

“Macky Sall committed high treason at the end of his mandate and must be prosecuted for it. We have never seen a government so cruel to its people. The Senegalese people gave him everything. Since your birth, everything you have earned comes from the Senegalese taxpayer: director, minister, president of the National Assembly, and now president. You have never created a business that allows you to have resources. Everything you have earned until today comes from the Senegalese taxpayer, but it is you who find yourself torturing these Senegalese citizens, gagging these people. We will not let this happen. »

For the several hundred detainees released since February 15, the time, money, family, and opportunities lost are forever gone. Still, they hope to see a better Senegal and share the same slogan: the fight continues.

As for the thousand detainees left behind who should never have been arrested and imprisoned in a law-abiding country, they are impatiently waiting to be released without any condition.

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