NIAMEY (Reuters) - Hama Amadou, a major opposition figure in Niger and a presidential candidate, has declared himself a political prisoner, his lawyer said on Wednesday, meaning he is now likely to spend time leading up to the February polls in jail.
Amadou was one of 15 candidates approved by the constitutional court to stand in presidential elections. His lawyer, speaking on a private television station, said Amadou made the decision after the appeals court turned down his plea to be released.
“We will not seek an appeal. We will no longer ask for conditional release,” said Souley Oumarou, the candidate’s lawyer. “Our client considers this no longer to be a judicial affair, but a political affair.”
The leaders of Amadou’s Moden political party have also jailed, Oumarou said.
Amadou, a one-time ally of President Mahamadou Issoufou, was arrested in November after returning from a year-long exile in France for alleged complicity in a baby trafficking ring.
About 30 other members of Niger’s political and economic elite, including Amadou’s wife, were charged with procuring newborn infants from neighboring Nigeria to sell to wealthy families
He has publicly denied the charges, which he says are politically motivated. All of the other people arrested under the investigation have been granted conditional release.
Issoufou, a Western ally in the fight against Islamist militancy in the region, is widely expected to win a second mandate in the presidential election.
Critics have said he has become increasingly authoritarian after uncovering what he described as an aborted coup in December.
Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalaki; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Richard Balmforth