The miserable life in captivity of Niger’s ousted president Mohamed Bazoum

According to a person with direct knowledge of the situation, Niger’s deposed president is being held in an isolated wing of his home by former security guards, walking around in his bedroom out of direct sunlight, cut off from the outside world and unable to speak to his lawyer. That’s what it means. The state of his detention.

Nine months after he was ousted in one of West Africa’s recent coups, Mohamed Bazoum remains in detention with no end in sight. His lawyers say the military regime that ousted him is seeking to strip him of presidential privileges, and he could be charged with treason, which could carry a life sentence.

A source close to him, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was confined with his wife, Hadiza, and two domestic workers, without access to a telephone and without access to his lawyer, other family members or friends. He says he hasn’t. The danger of the situation. His only visitor is his doctor, who brings him food once a week.

The once-loud voices calling for his release have died down. Many of Mr Bazoum’s closest allies – ministers and advisers – have been imprisoned or forced to flee Niger.

And some of Bazoum’s closest international partners are retreating. At the request of the ruling regime, the United States is preparing to withdraw about 1,000 troops stationed at air bases in the country’s deserts. France, a longtime partner in the fight against extremist groups linked to al-Qaida and Islamic State, withdrew in December.

Instead, about 100 Russian military instructors arrived in the capital, Niamey, in April as Niger’s new leaders turned to Moscow for security assistance.

“In these geopolitical developments, this man is being forgotten little by little.” reed brodya prominent human rights lawyer who represents Mr. Bazoum.

The military leaders who took over Niger accused the country of failing to protect the country from Islamic militants, but most analysts believe that political conflicts were the real cause, and that Niger was far worse off than its neighbors. It says it is doing well in deterring insurgents.

Military personnel have seized power in several West and Central African countries over the past four years, restricting personal freedoms, delaying a return to civilian rule, and persecuting opponents, including the presidents they once served and then ousted.

But Bazoum’s ordeal stands out. Although he has been removed from power, he remains at the center of power. The military official who ousted him, General Abdorahmane Chiani, who now rules Niger, is holding him in the presidential palace, just a few hundred feet from his office.

“Part of Mr. Chiani’s power lies in restraining Mr. Bazoum,” said Amadou Ange Chekarau Barrow, a close ally of Mr. Bazoum. “Bazoom is like a shield to him.”

Niger’s military government did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Mr. Bazoum, 64, has refused to resign, but international partners now say he is their former leader. “We continue to seek the release of former President Bazoum and those who were unjustly detained as part of the July 2023 military coup,” a State Department spokesperson said in April.

His lawyer says he is scheduled for a hearing on May 10th at which he could have his presidential privileges revoked. This could lead to him being charged with treason and other charges for attempting to flee in October. In interviews during his presidency, he said that Islamic extremists had better battlefield knowledge than the military and supported terrorism. He was also accused of asking foreign powers to release him immediately after the coup and plotting to threaten national security.

Moussa Coulibaly, the lawyer representing Bazoum at the Niamey hearing, declined to say whether Bazoum had attempted to flee and accused the junta of trying to make his illegal detention look legitimate. .

During the first few months of his captivity, Bazoum was held with his wife. 22 year old son Salem. Two domestic workers at the presidential palace. There was no electricity, but security guards in armed pickup trucks surrounded the house and were able to roam inside.

But sources close to Bazoum’s inner circle say the house soon became a giant oven. Temperatures outside reached 105 degrees Fahrenheit, and the prisoners’ skin was peeled off. Bazoum also suffered from severe malaria.

In October, the junta further restricted Bazoum’s movement after accusing him of trying to flee, confining him, his family and domestic workers to a corner of his official residence. Soldiers are now stationed inside and have removed the locks from the doors inside the residence so Bazoum cannot lock them for privacy. There is electricity, but soldiers have confiscated all phones, according to people interviewed by his aides.

Mr. Bazoum spends his days exercising on his indoor bicycle and reading Marxist theory, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and Tolstoy’s War and Peace. His relatives and aides had hoped to be released in time for Christmas or Eid al-Fitr in April. His son was released this year.

But the former president is now stuck in a bedroom once occupied by one of his children, leading to speculation that his next move could land him in jail.

“Prison is something he has always considered in his political career,” said one of Bazoum’s aides.

Bazoum, a former high school philosophy teacher, was elected president of Niger in 2021 and quickly made the country one of the most foreign aid-friendly countries in West Africa. He vowed to fight corruption and get more girls into schools in a bid to limit early pregnancies in a country with one of the world’s highest birth rates. He worked closely with China to build Africa’s longest oil pipeline, which the junta opened this year.

He sought help from the United States and European countries in the fight against extremists, bought drones from Turkey, and also held semi-secret negotiations with extremists.

The president welcomed U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to the capital. European envoys, including the Prince of Denmark and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, also visited.

Jean-Hervé Jezekel, director of the International Crisis Group’s project on the Sahel, which includes Niger, said: “Bazoum is seen as the best of all partners, and Western leaders have confidence in him.” “It was,” he says. But “so far that popularity has not borne fruit” in securing Bazoum’s release, he said.

The United States and European countries have remained divided for months over the best approach to securing his release from Niger’s military junta and facilitating a return to civilian rule, according to three senior Western officials responsible for Niger. France pushed for military intervention. The United States resisted this idea.

Now, Niger has pushed out both countries and brought in Russia.

Barrow, Bazoum’s senior adviser, said there was little hope for Bazoum’s freedom from the current military regime. “In Niger’s history, a detained president was not released until the soldiers who ousted him were evicted,” he said.

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