JOHANNESBURG – The CIVICUS Monitor announced in a new report Wednesday that it now rates Senegal’s civic space as ‘repressed’ amid a sustained crackdown on journalists and the political opposition ahead of next February’s elections.
The report, People Power Under Attack 2023, details civic space conditions in 198 countries and territories. The report’s Senegal findings show that freedoms of assembly, association and expression sharply declined in the country over the last year. Security forces have killed opposition protesters in the streets and jailed critics, including journalists and activists, in an attempt to stifle dissent in a tense campaign season.
“Our data shows Senegal experienced one of the largest declines in civic freedoms in 2023 of any country on Earth,” said CIVICUS Monitor researcher Ine Van Severen. “Senegal used to be hailed as a beacon of relative openness and democracy in West Africa. That’s not the case anymore.”
The CIVICUS Monitor rates each country’s civic space conditions based on data collected throughout the year from country-focused civil society activists, regionally-based research teams, international human rights indices and the Monitor’s own in-house experts. The data from these four separate sources are then combined to assign each country a rating as either ‘open,’ ‘narrowed,’ ‘obstructed,’ ‘repressed’ or ‘closed.’
This year, the CIVICUS Monitor found that nearly a third of humanity, or 30.6% of the global population, lives in ‘closed’ societies, the most restricted possible environments. This is the highest percentage of people in ‘closed’ countries that the CIVICUS Monitor has recorded since its first report in 2018.
Meanwhile, just 2.1% of people live in ‘open’ countries, where civic space is both free and protected, the lowest percentage yet and almost half the rate of six years ago. Together, these statistics point to a world in crisis.
“We are witnessing an unprecedented global crackdown on civic space,” said CIVICUS Monitor lead researcher Marianna Belalba Barreto. “The fact that we now rate a democracy like Senegal as ‘repressed,’ our second worst rating, shows that citizens of any country are at risk of losing their hard-won rights.”
Senegal’s downgrade is almost entirely due to crackdowns on civic freedoms surrounding the jailing and prosecution of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko ahead of the elections. Security forces have used excessive and lethal force against protests by his supporters, leading to clashes that left dozens dead.
In an attempt to quell protests, authorities in Senegal restricted access to Tik-Tok and mobile internet and suspended some media outlets. They also arrested and prosecuted several journalists covering Sonko’s case, including Dakar Matin journalist Pape Alé Niang who has been arrested three times in less than a year. Police have also arrested human rights defenders.
Further closing space for political dissent, the authorities dissolved Sonko’s opposition party PASTEF.
“There is serious concern that violations will continue and possibly intensify ahead of the February 2024 elections,” said Ine Van Severen. “The country’s leaders and allies need to take immediate steps to ensure citizens can enjoy the basics of democratic governance, including peaceful protests, unhindered journalism and a free and fair vote.”
The other downgraded countries this year are Bangladesh (closed), Bosnia & Herzegovina (obstructed), Germany (narrowed), Kyrgyzstan (repressed), Sri Lanka (repressed) and Venezuela (closed).