Senegal’s communications ministry issued a directive on Tuesday instructing mobile operators to halt internet access. This move preceded a planned silent march by activist groups, which authorities had prohibited, in response to the sudden postponement of a presidential election.
The decision to postpone the vote, just weeks before the scheduled date of Feb. 25, sparked violent clashes last week, resulting in the deaths of three youths and numerous arrests.
Parliament’s decision to reschedule the election for Dec. 15 raised concerns among opposition members, as it extended President Macky Sall’s term in an unprecedented departure from Senegal’s democratic norms.
The fate of the planned march remains uncertain following its ban by authorities on Monday, citing logistical challenges. Representatives of civil society and religious groups, who initiated the demonstration, will convene a press conference later on Tuesday to outline their next course of action, according to spokesman Amadou Samb.
The postponement of the vote disappointed many Senegalese citizens, considering Senegal’s reputation as one of West Africa’s more stable democracies amidst a region plagued by military coups and constitutional manipulations undermining democratic principles.
The communications ministry attributed the recent unrest, which resulted in fatalities and property damage, to inflammatory online content. In the capital Dakar, police clad in riot gear clashed with protesters last Friday, employing tear gas, stun grenades, and apparent rubber bullets in response to demonstrations involving burning tires and stone-throwing.
Amnesty International and the U.N. human rights office have urged the Senegalese government to investigate the fatalities and instances of police brutality against protesters. According to Liz Throssell, spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, at least 266 individuals, including journalists, have been detained nationwide.
ECOWAS, the regional bloc for West Africa, dispatched a parliamentary diplomatic delegation to Senegal on Monday to engage in discussions regarding the country’s political situation.