Zambian opposition leader’s lawyers ask court to throw out treason case

Zambian opposition leader, Hichilema Hakainde appeared before court to face charges of plotting to overthrow the government. Hichilema was arrested last week in a police raid on his home, raising political tension in a country that has traditionally been relatively stable. Hichilema’s supporters are threatening to go to the streets if he is not released soon.

LUSAKA, ZAMBIA (APRIL 18, 2017) (REUTERS) – There was heavy security when a Zambian opposition party leader accused of trying to overthrow the government appeared before the court on Tuesday (April 18).

Hakainde Hichilema, the United Party for National Development (UPND) leader, was arrested last week in a police raid on his home and charged with plotting with other people between October 10 last year and April 8 this year to remove the government by unlawful means.

He was initially accused of treason on the grounds that he had refused to give way to President Edgar Lungu’s motorcade as it passed through Mongu, a town west of the capital Lusaka.

His lawyers asked the court on Wednesday (April 19) to throw out the case, saying the state charges were vague and ambiguous.

The arrest has raised political tension in Zambia.

His supporters have said they will take to the streets in protests if Hichilema is not released.

“If he won’t be released in time, we are going to protest, peace demonstration to the whole world, to hear our cry so that he must be released,” said Euthin Mboozi, a Hichilema supporter.

Lungu has narrowly beaten Hichilema, an economist and businessman who goes by the nickname “HH”, in two presidential elections.

Human rights group Amnesty International said in its annual report that the latest one, in August, was marked by increased political violence.

Analysts say Hichilema’s arrest is politically motivated.

“The 2016 general election was even more controversial than the 2015 election, which ended up with the opposition not…. Making an open public statement that they do not recognize the president that was produced out of this election, ok? And this is where the problem of these differences is starting from or they are starting from,” said McDonald Chipenzi, a governance expert.

The rising political temperature in Zambia, Africa’s second-biggest copper producer, comes against the backdrop of an economy hobbled by low commodity prices, mine closures, rising unemployment, power shortages, a widening budget deficit and diminishing foreign-currency reserves.