Zambian opposition leader charged with trying to overthrow government


Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, arrested last week on suspicion of treason, was charged in a magistrate’s court on Tuesday with trying to overthrow government.

Relations between government and opposition have been raw since last August, when President Edgar Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF) party beat Hichilema’s United Party for National Development (UPND) in a vote the opposition maintains was rigged.

Police in Africa’s second largest copper-producing country raided Hichilema’s house on April 11 arresting him. He was initially charged with treason for obstructing Lungu’s motorcade.

In court on Tuesday, he was charged with treason in that “he together with other persons did prepare or endeavoured to overthrow by unlawful means the government” between October 10 last year and April 8 this year”.

The charge in the motorcade incident was changed to disobeying instructions from a police officer by failing to give way to a presidential motorcade and using insulting language.

The court directed Hichilema be allowed visits by his children and at least five other family members following an application by his defence lawyers, who said he had so far been allowed to see only his wife.

Dressed in a red coat and khaki shirt, Hichilema waved his party symbol to supporters in court and stood throughout.

The prosecution is expected to respond to the issues raised after which the magistrate will make a ruling. Hichilema and five others facing the same charges, all members of his party and including his driver, did not enter pleas as treason can only be tried in the high court.

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

Rising political temperatures in Zambia have come 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.

The political turbulence does not appear to have closed the taps of international finance or aid. The presidency said on Tuesday Zambia was on the verge of a possible $1.2 billion programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), saying it was expected to be sealed by the end of April.