Niger court scraps immunity of deposed President Bazoum

Decision opens door for military government to prosecute democratically elected president for alleged ‘high treason’.

Demonstrators gather in front of the Embassy of Niger in Paris, in support of Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum
Demonstrators gather in front of the embassy of Niger in Paris in support of Mohamed Bazoum, deposed as Nigerien president in a coup, on August 5, 2023 [Sophie Garcia/AP Photo]

The top court in military-governed Niger has lifted the immunity of the country’s deposed president, Mohamed Bazoum, paving the way for a possible trial nearly a year after he was overthrown by mutinous soldiers.

Abdou Dan Galadima, president of the State Court, the country’s highest legal authority that was created in November by the military government, announced the decision on Friday.

The military authorities had initiated the legal proceedings earlier this year, declaring their intention to eventually prosecute Bazoum for “high treason” and for undermining national security.

Under house arrest with his family, Bazoum is accused of having spoken by telephone with French President Emmanuel Macron and United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a bid to secure Western support during the July 2023 coup.

The court proceedings were postponed twice, with Bazoum’s lawyers complaining of several obstacles to the right of a defence. They have been unable to communicate with him since last October.

Human Rights Watch, an international rights group, has alleged the hearing was marred by serious irregularities, including violations of Bazoum’s rights to present evidence in his defence, to communicate with his legal counsel and to be heard before an independent court.

Late last year, the highest court of West African regional bloc ECOWAS ruled that Bazoum and his family were arbitrarily detained and called for him to be released and restored to office. Niger pulled out of the grouping a month later.

After Friday’s hearing, Ould Salem Mohamed, one of Bazoum’s lawyers, said they took note of the decision and that the defence team would make a statement shortly.

Before Bazoum was forcibly removed from power, Niger was the West’s last major security partner in the Sahel, the vast region south of the Sahara desert that has for years been gripped by deadly violence perpetrated by armed groups.

Bazoum, a former teacher, was elected in 2021 – the country’s first-ever peaceful transfer of power since independence in 1960. Lauded for his democratic credentials, he offered a base for powers like France and the US to launch security campaigns against armed groups affiliated with ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda.

The military government has since booted out France’s military. US troops were also ordered to leave and have officially started their withdrawal.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies