Zambian Opposition Leader Remains in Jail

Zambia’s opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema has been behind bars for two weeks.

He will remain there as a judge in Magistrate’s Court said Wednesday he did not have the power to rule on a defense motion to drop the charge of treason. Zambia does not allow bail for treason cases.  

The spokesman for Hichilema’s UPND party, Charles Kakoma, told VOA Wednesday the defense has filed another application to dispute the treason charge before another magistrate court. Those proceedings were adjourned until Thursday.

Amnesty International has criticized the case as “political persecution through prosecution” and called for Hichilema’s immediate release.

“We also can see that the state is struggling to formulate the treason charge, given the continued changes in the structure of the treason charges,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Southern Africa.  “So I am not calling for the president to intervene in any kind of thing. I am just calling for charges to be dropped because there are no bases to sustain the charges.”

Interference of president’s motorcade

In the charge sheet before the court Wednesday, the prosecution said the treason charge stems from an incident on April 8 in which Hichilema’s motorcade failed to give way to the president’s. The prosecution accuses Hichilema and five members of his staff of collaborating with 60 others in obstructing President Edgar Lungu’s motorcade in a way that could cause harm or death to the president.

Hichilema’s United Party for National Development has rejected the charge.

This is the second time the opposition leader has been arrested since disputed elections in August. Hichilema refused to recognize Lungu as the winner.  

His detention this month has caused political tensions to climb again. Several incidents of public buildings being set alight have been reported.

A matter for the courts

Some have called for Lungu to release Hichilema, but presidential spokesman Amos Chanda told VOA’s Daybreak Africa Wednesday that is a matter for the courts.  

“The position of the president remains the same,” Chanda said. “That he respects the due process of the law and that his intervention in any court matter is only possible once the due process of the law is complete.”

If convicted on treason charges, Hichilema faces a minimum jail term of 15 years. The maximum sentence is the death penalty.

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