“We thought tear gas and grenades would be used against us. We had no idea they would shoot,” said Cheikh, who was inches away when the bullet struck his friend and rushed him to the hospital in an unsuccessful attempt to save his life. “As I watched him on the way there, I realized it was over.”
His friend, Khadim Ba, was one of at least 23 people killed earlier this month in Senegal during the country’s deadliest clashes between police and protesters in decades, according to Amnesty International. Like Ba, several people were reported shot with live ammunition by men wearing civilian clothes who appeared to be fighting alongside the police, according to protesters and rights group.
Such “nervis,” a French word for “thugs” that is used in Senegal to refer to gunmen for hire who are deployed to shut down protests, are allegedly responsible for numerous deaths during the days of clashes between supporters of political opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and police.
An autopsy report seen by The Associated Press states Ba died from “firearm thoracic trauma” that started in the front of his body and pierced his heart and lungs. He was shot and killed on June 1, the same day Sonko was convicted of “corrupting youth” and given a two-year prison sentence.
Sonko’s supporters maintain the conviction was the latest episode in a long-running effort by the government of President Macky Sall to derail the opposition leader’s candidacy in the 2024 presidential election. Under Senegalese law, a criminal conviction could bar Sonko from running.