A Senegalese judge remanded 43 followers of an influential religious leader in pre-trial custody on Tuesday for alleged involvement in human trafficking, one of their lawyers said.
Police in the West African state arrested the suspects late November as part of an investigation into scooter thefts, which allegedly revealed a trafficking network at “reform centers” run by religious leader Serigne Modou Kara Mbacke.
Officers freed more than 370 people at the centers, located in the seaside capital Dakar, whom they said had been illegally detained and kept in deplorable conditions.
Mbacke belongs to the Mouride brotherhood, a powerful Sufi Muslim order, and is the head of a political party.
His “reform centers” across Senegal mainly target wayward youths.
Victims have alleged that several people died at the centers in recent years, with the most recent death occurring in November.
Mbacke’s press office has denied the accusations.
Mouride spokesperson Mounirou Sarr said a judge had charged 43 men who allegedly ran the centers with “criminal association, kidnapping and violence”.
Abdoulaye Tall, one of detainees’ lawyers, told AFP that they had all been remanded in pre-trial detention.
It is not yet clear whether judges will pursue Mbacke — who has a personal militia and styles himself as ‘the General’.
More than 90 percent of Senegalese are Muslim and most of the faithful follow Sufi brotherhoods, which retain considerable economic and political clout in the former French colony of 16 million people.