Zambian Police Charge Opposition Leader Hichilema With Treason

  • No bail for treason charges, death penalty possible in Zambia
  • Police detained Hichilema after raiding home firing teargas

Zambia’s main opposition leader, Hakainde Hichilema, has been arrested and charged with treason for failing to move off the road for the president’s motorcade at a weekend ceremony, the inspector general of police said. The charge allows no bail and can carry the death penalty.

Police raided Hichilema’s residence late Monday, firing teargas and breaking down doors, while the president of the United Party for National Development sought refuge in a safe room in the house. Police used teargas to try to force Hichilema and his family out, and he emerged when his lawyers were allowed on the property, according to his wife, Mutinta.

Hichilema ignored orders and obstructed a presidential motorcade in an attempt to put the life of President Edgar Lungu in danger, Inspector General Kakoma Kanganja told reporters Wednesday in Lusaka, the capital. He was also charged with disobeying lawful orders and using insulting language, he said.

“The actions by the opposition leader were unreasonable, reckless, and criminal. As police, we are not going to watch such kind of behavior from any person,” Kanganja said. “We shall ensure that those that would want to cause unnecessary anarchy are arrested and prosecuted.”

Deepening Confrontation

The latest arrest marks a spike in the confrontation between HH, as the opposition leader is known, and Lungu, whom Hichilema refuses to recognize because he says the election he lost in August was fraudulent. The UPND challenged the results in the Constitutional Court, which didn’t hear the case after the 14-day period allowed for the petition lapsed before it could even begin.

The allegations are “trumped up” and Hichilema “has not committed any offense whatsoever,” Geoffrey Mwamba, the UPND’s vice president, told reporters Tuesday.

Yields on Zambia’s $1 billion of Eurobonds due April 2024 rose 4 basis points on Wednesday to 8.08 percent by 12:08 p.m. in London, the highest in more than a month.

The presidency won’t interfere in Hichilema’s case, presidential spokesman Amos Chanda said in a statement posted to the ruling Patriotic Front’s Facebook page. “Several crimes” were committed during the motorcade incident, he said.

Police in the Southern Province arrested four people for attempting to stage a riot in response to the arrest of Hichilema, the police commissioner for the province, Bonny Kapeso, said in a text message Wednesday.

Hichilema, 54, was last arrested in October over allegations of unlawful assembly, and says he’s been detained at least 16 times in the past five years.

“This time they were so brutal,” Hichilema said by phone Tuesday after he arrived at the police station. “They tortured my workers. My lips are swollen, my eyes are swollen, my skin is itching.”

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