In another episode in the unfolding story of the effective shutdown of the Senegalese opposition, Ousmane Sonko’s lawyer, Spanish-French national Juan Branco, was arrested in neighboring Mauritania and extradited to Dakar.
French media is currently reporting that Branco claims he was “kidnapped” approximately 100 kilometers from the Mauritanian Capital of Nouakchott by masked men, and unwillingly taken to the Senegalese capital of Dakar. Branco asserts that his wrists were injured in the process of his kidnapping. After he was forcibly detained in Mauritania, it was reported that he was brought to Senegal aboard a small canoe, donning an outfit as if he were a fisherman.
This development comes after Branco's previous controversial entry into Senegal, where he had smuggled himself into the country illegally in late July, to attend a press conference for the team of lawyers defending Sonko. He resorted to sneaking into Senegal after being denied entry at Dakar’s Blaise Diagne International Airport back in March. According to French media sources, he initially took a Royal Air Maroc flight from Paris to Banjul, the capital of The Gambia, and then crossed into Senegal by hand from there.
Since these actions, and his unwavering support for Ousmane Sonko and his now-dissolved PASTEF party, Branco has been the target of Senegalese government action, which includes a judicial investigation and an international arrest warrant issued in his name on July 14th. The Senegalese government is charging Branco with terrorism, conspiracy, dissemination of false news, among a whole host of other charges. Currently, Branco is being held in custody in Dakar, by quote “in the hands of an elite police unit,” as stated by the Senegalese Interior Minister Antoine Felix Abdoulaye Diome.
It seems as if the Senegalese government is now extending its treatment of the opposition, that of repression and jailing under dubious circumstances, to the lawyers of the opposition leader, further shutting down any hope of the opposition being able to plead their case within the confines of the law.
While Branco’s case parallels the one of his defendants, he undoubtedly engaged in some dubious actions, primarily when he decided to enter Senegal in a less-than-legal manner, through the country’s border with The Gambia. Branco’s colleagues and lawyers have also responded to the situation, with his lawyer Robin Binsard stating that “These legal proceedings are meant to silence a lawyer”and colleague Bamba Cisse asserting that they wish for his rights to be respected while he is in jail in Senegal. It is currently unknown which actions the Governments of France and/or Spain will take, if any, to assist Branco while he is in captivity. As Juan Branco is Spanish by birth and French by naturalization, he is entitled to consular assistance from both nations.
As of Monday, August 7th, Branco was released on bail and deported from Senegal, arriving at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle International Airport later that day. He was unharmed, although he appeared physically exhausted when French news reporters caught up with him at the airport. Furthermore, it was asserted by the Senegalese government that the judicial investigation and proceedings will continue, despite the fact that Branco is now back in his adopted home of Paris.