4. My father is losing weight due to inhumane conditions – Daughter of Niger’s captured leader


Niger’s overthrown leader and his family are being held under inhumane conditions by their military captors, who have cut off electricity to the presidential residence, leaving them to rapidly lose weight while food rots in the fridge, the president’s daughter has told the Guardian.

Zazia Bazoum, who was on holiday in France when Mohamed Bazoum was detained by his own presidential guard last month, said she is in near-daily phone contact with her father, mother and brother, who she says are living without clean water and relying on supplies of rice and pasta, although their gas oven is running out of fuel.

“The situation of my family is very difficult currently,” she said by phone from Paris. “They are staying in the dark, and the weather in Niger is very difficult. So it’s very sad that they are always in the dark and the house is very hot … it’s OK for them, they say they will keep fighting, but it’s hard for [me and my two siblings abroad] to see our family in this situation and they can’t go out.”

Zazia, 34, is trained as a banking lawyer but works with her mother Hadja Hadiza Bazoum for the first lady’s Foundation, Noor, in the health and education sectors in Niger.

An international effort has failed to successfully pressure the junta to release her father, the West African nation’s democratically elected leader.

Niger’s self-proclaimed new head of state, Gen Abdourahamane Tiani, and his allies named ministers in a new government this week, indicating their intention to remain in power.

On Thursday, leaders of a powerful regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), ordered the activation of its standby force in a move seen as pressuring the junta to step down. On Friday, the larger African Union body called on the international community to save Bazoum’s life. The US and UN have also voiced concerns for his health.

However, Niger’s new military rulers have rejected diplomatic efforts to mediate and there are fears that more aggressive tactics will lead to chaotic conflict in the heart of the troubled and strategically important Sahel.

Neighbouring Nigeria has cut electricity to Niger to pressure the military, although Zazia said there was still power in the capital and the fact that her family was without electricity was a deliberate move by their captors.

She said the junta leaders have prevented her father’s doctor from entering the presidential palace in Niamey, where he is being held, and that he was told by soldiers not to come back.

Her father and mother had lost about 5kg each, while her 22-year-old brother, Salem, who is being held with his parents, has lost 10kg, she said.

“This is very dangerous, [the coup leaders] are doing it to put pressure on them, but it’s not fair to see them in this situation,” she said.

“The food that they have in the fridge, they can’t use it any more. They do not have meat or fresh vegetables, so they have stuff like rice and pasta and is only the thing tl they are eating currently, which is not good for their health, you understand you can’t eat only rice and pasta always, day and night,” she said. “So for their health, it’s dangerous. They do not even have clean water to drink, and the gas to cook will finish soon too. So what will they eat after that, because they don’t want to let anyone come to see them.”

When Victoria Nuland, a US senior diplomat, visited Niamey this week she was denied access to the presidential family. Her request for Salem’s release was also denied, despite him being sick.
Zazie added: “We, too, requested twice for him to go out but they refused. His situation is bad. [The coup leaders] are using all this stuff against them, the electricity and all that psychological pressure, because they want to see my father sign a resignation letter. This is torture, they make life very difficult for them.”

Zazia doubts that the military will release her father. “Maybe they will let my brother and my mother go, but I don’t think they will let my father out,” she said. “They know that if they let him go he has people who will support him.

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