Hama Amadou, an opposition leader in the Sahel state of Niger, was sentenced to a year’s jail on Monday on a charge of baby smuggling after a trial that his attorneys denounced as a fix.
Amadou – who competed against President Mahamadou Issoufou in elections in 2016 – had left to France and was tried in absentia.
He was one of a group of people accused of smuggling babies from Nigeria via Benin to wealthy couples in Niger.
Shortly before the verdict, defence lawyers walked out of court, saying legal procedures had not been upheld and that the goal was to prevent Amadou from running again for office.
“Hama Amadou lives in France and so all procedural documents must be sent to him in France, and proceedings should be delayed,” said Ali Kadri, a lawyer from the defence team.
However the judge refused to grant the defence’s request for a delay, Kadri added.
Souley Oumarou, another lawyer for Amadou, said: “They want to judge Hama and condemn him… the goal is to reach a decision that will make him unable to run in the next election” in 2021.
Amadou had been charged for “complicity” in the alleged trafficking, but the charge was changed on the judge’s orders to that of “illicitly dealing in children.”
A former premier and parliamentary speaker, Amadou has been nicknamed “the Phoenix” for his political comebacks.
He was arrested on November 14, 2015 on his return from exile, and was forced to campaign for the presidency from behind bars.
He was released on medical grounds on March 16, 2016, four days before the second round of the voting, and flew to France.
Issoufou went on to win with 92% of the run-off ballot. With the opposition boycotting the election, Amadou only got seven percent of the vote.