A Niger court on Tuesday granted bail to failed presidential challenger Hama Amadou, who was detained in November on sensational baby trafficking charges that he claimed were politically motivated.
President Mahamadou Issoufou was re-elected to a second term in office with 92 percent of the vote in a March 20 run-off that the opposition boycotted.
His sole challenger Amadou, who was flown to France for medical treatment four days before the second round of voting, announced his candidacy while in detention.
“The decision is clear, he is free as of today,” his lawyer Mossi Boubacar said.
“He should be out today or tomorrow,” Amadou’s doctor Luc Karsenty told AFP in Paris.
A source close to the case in Niger said Amadou would not have to return to his prison in Filingue, 180 kilometres (110 miles) north of the capital Niamey, upon his return.
Amadou Boubacar Cisse, vice-president of the COPA 2016 opposition alliance, said the government “must definitively sort out Amadou’s legal status” and called on the president to “stop the continuous harassment of the opposition.”
Cisse called for the release of all political prisoners as a condition for accepting the president’s offer of talks to ease political tensions in the arid west African state.
“We are all open to dialogue to prevent chaos in the country but there is a pre-condition,” he said, adding: “All opposition members who are currently in jail must be freed.”
Amadou’s supporters have branded the baby trafficking case against him as an attempt to quash his leadership ambitions.
The 66-year-old was detained on November 14, after returning from exile in France, over allegations that he was involved in smuggling babies from Nigeria to wealthy couples in Niger.
The court was supposed to rule on his conditional release on March 14 but put off the decision until March 28, after the second round of the election which the opposition branded a farce.
About 20 people were accused of involvement in the trafficking of babies, including bankers, leading businessmen and their spouses. Amadou’s wife was also detained but released with the other suspects.
The case added to tensions in the uranium-rich country ahead of the election.
Last week, Issoufou proposed establishing a unity government with the opposition.
Reacting to his offer, COPA 2016’s Cisse said: “The issue for us is not to take up folding seats in a national unity government … but to put back democracy on track.”