Hama Amadou, an opposition leader in the Sahel state of Niger has been sentenced to a year in prison on a charge of baby-smuggling. Amadou's defense lawyers have claimed that the ruling is politically motivated.
In the final ruling in a long-running case, Niger's appeals court on Monday handed Hama Amadou a one-year jail sentence. The exiled former presidential candidate, who competed against President Mahamadou Issoufou in the March 2016 elections, has lived in France since last year when he left Niger for health reasons, just days before a run off. He was tried on Monday in absentia.
Prosecutors claim that Amadou was one of a group of people accused of smuggling babies from Nigeria via Benin to wealthy couples in Niger by falsely claiming the parenthood of around 30 children.
Amadou has repeatedly denied that either he or his wife were part of the plot.
At the turn of the last decade, Niger's elite went through a baby boom. Women who had been childless for years were suddenly celebrating the birth of their first child.
In Niger, there is a stigma attached to childlessness.
"Couples in which the woman couldn't conceive would look for a baby to buy in Nigeria. The babies were then transported to Niger or Benin," Klaas van Walraven from the Center for Africa Studies at the University of Leiden, The Netherlands, told DW.
'Illicitly dealing in children'
The allegations against Amadou first surfaced in 2014 when he was parliamentary president but the case was dropped in 2015. One year later, however, the case was reinstated by the appeals court
The politician had originally 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."
Amid claims that the sentence is politically motivated, Amadou's defense lawyers boycotted the hearing on Monday, claiming that 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 France, and proceedings should be delayed," said Ali Kadri, a lawyer from the defense team, adding that the judge had refused the defense's request for a delay.
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.
Defense likely to appeal
Despite Monday's ruling, attorney Boubacar Mossi indicated that Amadou's defense team would appeal the decision.
"There are means of recourse and we will use them," Mossi said.
In an interview with DW, ahead of Monday's hearing, Mossi said: "It is clear that they want to destroy him."
ksb/rt (AFP, Reuters)