A Senegal court on Thursday handed a two-month suspended sentence to opposition leader Ousmane Sonko after a libel trial his lawyers said will not rule him out of the 2024 presidential election.
The 48-year-old was found guilty of defaming Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang, a member of President Macky Sall's party.
"With two months suspended Sonko is still eligible," lawyers Bamba Cisse and Cheikh Khoureyssi Ba said.
The claim could not be immediately confirmed by AFP.
However, Sonko could face an appeal by the prosecution which called for a two-year jail term, with only one year suspended. In a separate case, he also risks conviction on a rape charge.
Opposition leader Ousmane Sonko speaks to reporters in Dakar on the way to court on March 16. By GUY PETERSON (AFP/File)
With Sonko and his supporters accusing the government of using the justice system to try to prevent him from running in next year's election, Senegal has lived through another tense week around the resumption of the libel trial.
It had been feared the outcome of the defamation trial could have left Sonko ineligible to stand for the presidency under current legislation.
A firebrand speaker who finished third in the 2019 presidential vote, Sonko is popular among young people while detractors accuse him of being a populist.
The presidential party accuses Sonko of seeking to paralyse the country and of drumming up anger on the streets in a bid to escape justice.
Police were deployed in large numbers in the capital Dakar and had on Wednesday fired tear gas during clashes with students trying to hold a banned demonstration.
Police have been out in force in Dakar. By SEYLLOU (AFP)
The tensions have considerably slowed down activities in the capital. School and university holidays have been brought forward. Public transport was suspended on Wednesday while banks closed early.
Violence had flared in several cities since the trial opened on March 16.
Sonko's repeated brushes with the law have sparked angry protests and clashes with security forces since 2012 when at least 12 people died.
The court also ordered Sonko to pay 200 million CFA francs (300,000 euros) to the minister, who accused him of defaming him in relation to his management of a community agriculture programme.
Several human rights organisations have expressed concern about the restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression in the West African nation and have called on Sall not to bid for a third term.
The president has left his intentions in doubt, but rejects claims it would be unconstitutional for him to run again.