A Senegalese opposition activist was jailed for two years after he was found guilty of threatening the lives of judges if they do not bar President Abdoulaye Wade from running for a third term.
The case reflects mounting tensions in the West African state ahead of a February poll in which the octogenarian leader is seeking reelection, and threatens to tarnish the country’s democratic and human rights record.
The prosecution said a letter written by activist Malick Noel Seck and addressed to the head of Senegal’s constitutional council included a death threat to members of the council and demonstrated contempt of the legal body, Reuters reports.
Seck’s letter, seen by Reuters, argued Wade should be limited to two terms as required by the constitution, and said “we will return in numbers to hold you accountable” if Wade is permitted to stand in February’s election.
While aggressive in tone, the letter did not appear to contain a direct death threat.
Wade’s camp has argued that he is not bound by the two-term limit because he was elected president in 2000, a year before the clause was introduced.
Senegalese human rights group RADDHO and a lawyer for Seck said the jail sentence raised questions about free speech in Senegal.
“Seck is a political prisoner,” said Alioune Tine, RADDHO president.
“Sentencing Seck for two years is a sign of panic from the authorities. They will not stop us from saying that President Wade does not have the right to seek a third term,” Seck’s lawyer Aissatou Sall Tall said.
Senegal has long been seen as haven of stability in West Africa but the combination of Wade’s plans to stand for re-election, high youth unemployment and rolling power cuts have raised tensions.
Senegal’s fractured opposition parties, backed by various human rights groups and civic organisations, have held a series of street protests against Wade’s plans to run.
In June they forced Wade to backtrack on planned changes to the constitution, which were seen as easing his re-election.