Niger presidential candidate denied release from prison
Hama Amadou, a major opposition figure approved to stand in Niger's February elections just two days ago, failed on Monday in an attempt to gain release from prison in a plea to the country's appeals court.
President Mahamadou Issoufou, a key Western ally in the fight against Islamist militancy in the fragile Sahara region, is expected to win a second term; but critics accuse him of becoming increasingly authoritarian, especially after uncovering what he described as an aborted coup in December.
Amadou, a one-time ally to the president, was jailed in November for alleged participation in a baby trafficking ring upon return from a year-long exile. He has publicly denied the charges, which he says are politically motivated.
The opposition figure was among 15 candidates that Niger's constitutional court approved on Saturday to stand in presidential elections in the uranium-producing West African country.
"With this rejection of conditional release, the regime succeeded with its first knock-out blow," said Souley Oumara, his lawyer.
The appeals court did not give a reason for its decision, and Amadou can appeal to the supreme court. The government was not immediately available for comment.
Amadou's lawyers were not present in court on Monday because Niger's bar association called a one-day strike on Monday against what it sees as arbitrary detentions by the president's secret service that have denied lawyers access to clients.
The country's secret service, the General Directorate of the Documentation and Security of the State, had interrogated Amadou, as well as members of his party and other opposition figures.
"The DGDSE (secret service) cannot arrest and deny the right to a defence," said Samna Daouda, the head of Niger's bar association. "We must defend liberty and rights."
Issoufou said in a televised address in December that plotters had planned the use of aerial firepower and had prevented transport of military vehicles from the capital to southern region Diffa. Several military officials were arrested.
Amadou's imprisonment was not in connection with the alleged coup attempt.