Zambia to drop treason charges against opposition leader

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Zambia plans to drop treason charges against the country’s main opposition leader and free him from prison under a deal brokered by the Commonwealth secretary-general, government and legal sources told Reuters.

United Party for National Development (UPND) leader Hakainde Hichilema and five others were arrested in April and charged with treason after Hichilema’s convoy failed to make way for President Edgar Lungu’s motorcade.

Hichilema’s trial was due to start on Monday but two sources said the prosecution would apply to the court to dismiss the case.

It has stoked political tensions in the continent’s second largest copper producer, seen as one of Africa’s more stable and functional democracies, following a bruising election last year.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland visited Zambia last week and told reporters she met Lungu and Hichilema separately and the two agreed to a process of dialogue facilitated by her office.
“That process of dialogue, which Commonwealth Secretary-General Baroness Patricia Scotland is leading with the help of Catholic bishops, starts with the release of the opposition leader from prison,” a government source told Reuters.
“The state will discontinue the treason case in the public interest as both the opposition leader and the head of state are committed to burying the past and starting dialogue to help address some issues the opposition raised after the 2016 elections so the 2021 elections are better held.”

Lungu is committed to all aspects of the dialogue agreed between the president and the opposition leader, the source said, which include promoting peace, stability and public good.
“An overt act serious enough to warrant prosecution exists but the public interest seems to be the overriding consideration, so a nolle prosequi will be entered,” a public prosecutor told Reuters, using the legal term for the discharge of a case.

The southern African country has been relatively stable but relations between the government and the opposition have been fraught since August when Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF) beat the UPND in a presidential election marred by violence and which the opposition says was rigged.

It was the second time Lungu beat Hichilema, an economist and businessman popularly known by his initials “HH”, in a presidential election by a razor-thin margin.

In June, church leaders including those from the influential Catholic Church, called for Hichilema’s release.

Last month Lungu invoked emergency powers to deal with “acts of sabotage” after fire gutted the country’s biggest market.



Under emergency laws, police can prohibit public meetings, detain suspects longer than usual, search without a warrant, close roads, impose curfews and restrict certain people’s movements.