A supporter of The Movement of the Defence of Democracy (M2D) wears a face mask as he holds a Senegalese flag during a rally in Dakar on June 23, 2021, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the 2011 protests that called to end ex-President Abdoulaye Wades possible third term as President and to denounce current president Macky Salls possible third term. (Photo by JOHN WESSELS / AFP)
Police were deployed in Senegal’s capital Dakar on Friday ahead of a vote on a contested draft law that would define “seriously disturbing public order” as an act of terrorism.
The West African state’s government says the bill is intended to strengthen its fight against terror groups, but opposition figures warn that it would criminalise dissent.
One clause describes “seriously disturbing public order” as an act of terrorism, while another calls for people convicted of terrorism to be jailed for life.
The Movement for the Defence of Democracy (MDD), an opposition coalition, urged people to demonstrate against the bill on Friday.
“This bill kills our democracy because it will accuse any dissenter of terrorism,” Babacar Diop, an MDD leader, told a press conference late Thursday, calling the proposed legislation “freedom-killing”.
The vote, to be held Friday morning, comes amid uncertainty in Senegal over whether President Macky Sall will seek a controversial third term.
Senegalese presidents are limited to two consecutive terms, but some fear Sall will seek to exploit constitutional changes approved in a 2016 referendum to run again in 2024.
On Thursday, thousands of people demonstrated in Dakar against a possible third term for the 59-year-old president.
MDD representatives also told reporters that the anti-terror legislation is designed to suppress demonstrations in the event of a third-term bid by Salls.
In the bill, the government argues that current anti-terror legislation does “not fully cover certain issues,” and points to areas such as terror financing in which the law needs to be strengthened.
Aymerou Gningue, the chairman of the parliamentary bloc allied to the president, told AFP that terrorism had become more complex, saying the new law is designed to combat the problem in “all its forms”.