Police arrested the leader of a small Zambian opposition party on charges of defaming President Edgar Lungu describing him as a dog, his lawyer said.
Chishimba Kambwili, leader of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), defended his comments, telling journalists his statement in an online video was misunderstood.
Kambwili and other opposition politicians accuse Lungu of cracking down on dissent – a charge regularly dismissed by government which says it protects free speech.
The arrest came two days after the Registrar of Societies cancelled the NDC’s registration – saying its constitution was flawed and effectively shutting it down. Kambwili will challenge the decision in court.
“The arrest is a clear sign of intimidation, coming shortly after deregistration of Kambwili’s party. The ruling party seems to be uncomfortable with Kambwili,” Lee Habasonda, a political analyst at the University of Zambia told Reuters.
Kambwili’s party broke away from the Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF) in 2016 and took its first seat in parliamentary elections in April in the copper-producing heartland.
“The allegation is he made reference to dogs from Chawama” in the video, his lawyer Christopher Mundia told Reuters, referring to a township where Lungu previously lived and served as member of parliament.
“The police have inferred he was referring to the head of state as a dog from Chawama and that is why they have decided to charge him with defamation,” Mundia said.
Kambwili told journalists his statement in the local Bemba language was misunderstood, but did not explain what he meant.
Police released a statement saying Kambwili was detained, but did not go into further details. There was no immediate comment from government.