Senegal President Macky Sall on Sunday pardoned one of his chief political rivals, the charismatic former mayor of Dakar, Khalifa Sall, who was jailed in 2018 on corruption charges.
Khalifa Sall, who is no relation to the Senegalese president, was arrested in March 2017 on suspicion of embezzling 1.8 billion CFA francs ($3 million) in public funds. Last year, he was sentenced to five years in jail.
He was pardoned with two others, according to a statement from the presidency on Sunday. Khalifa Sall’s lawyers confirmed the decision.
“It’s a salutary decision since he was arbitrarily imprisoned, but the fight is not over. We want an amnesty,” said Khalifa Sall’s lawyer, Ousseynou Fall.
‘Khalifa Sall is returning to his family’
The former Dakar mayor emerged from prison a few hours after the pardon was announced to be greeted by a crowd of supporters.
Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd, witnesses and local media said,
“I thank the head of state (Macky Sall) who had promised me this release,” said Sowam Wardini, who took over as Dakar mayor from the charismatic 63-year-old Senegalese politician. “Khalifa Sall is returning to his family today,” he added.
Khalifa Sall served as Dakar mayor from 2009 till 2018 when the president removed him from office. He was elected to parliament in 2017 but never got the chance to take his seat.
Jailing of presidential rivals
A popular politician, Khalifa Sall has always believed that the case brought against him was a political move to prevent him from standing in this year’s presidential election against Macky Sall, who has been in power since 2012. That claim is denied by officials.
Several religious leaders have recently called for more discussion and less conflict in the country’s political life.
Former minister Karim Wade, son of Macky Sall’s predecessor as president Abdoulaye Wade (2000-12), is another one who was prevented for standing for the presidency because of a fraud case.
He was jailed for six years in 2015 after having been detained for two years, and handed a fine of more than 210 million euros.
After a three-year stint in prison he was handed a presidential pardon in June 2016.
However the constitutional court rejected his presidential election candidacy due to that conviction.
Religious leaders play role in release
Serigne Mountakha Mbacke, head of the Sufi Mouride Brotherhood, one of the most influential Muslim orders in Senegal, was the instigator of a reconciliatory meeting on Friday between President Sall and Abdoulaye Wade.
Religious leaders have a lot of influence in a country where over 90 percent of people are Muslims.
With four largely peaceful transitions of power since independence from France in 1960, Senegal is seen as a beacon of democratic stability in a restive region.
Yet the president’s political opponents saw Khalifa Sall’s imprisonment as a political hit job based on false charges to keep one of the country’s best-known and popular politicians out of the presidential race.
Macky Sall has denied such charges, but his treatment of Khalifa Sall raised questions among international observers about the president’s dedication to free and fair elections.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)