Zambian authorities must drop trumped-up treason charges against main opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema and his five employees and release them unconditionally, Amnesty International said today ahead of his bail hearing.
The six were arrested on 11 April after they allegedly failed to give way to a Presidential convoy. They claim they were beaten, teargassed and pepper sprayed on their genitals by the police.
“Hakainde Hichilema and the other arrested members of the United Party for National Development (UPND) are victims of longstanding persecution by the Zambian authorities stemming from their political activities and last year’s disputed election,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Southern Africa.
“The charges against Hichilema and his employees are designed to harass and intimidate him and deter him from doing his political work.”
Hakainde Hichilema is facing charges of treason, “disobeying lawful orders” and using insulting language towards the police after a confrontation with a convoy carrying President Edgar Lungu.
Police allege that Hichilema’s vehicles did not give way to the presidential motorcade while they were travelling on the same road on 8 April.
However Hichilema’s lawyer told Amnesty International that their vehicles had been given permission to go ahead. Both men were on their way to attend a religious ceremony in Mongu district. After their arrest, three of Hichilema’s employees were allegedly tortured by policemen wearing hoods.
“These charges are a massive conflation of what is essentially a traffic control issue; it should not be labelled treason, said Deprose Muchena.
“The Zambian authorities must promptly and thoroughly investigate these reports of torture and other ill-treatment of those detained and bring suspected perpetrators to justice in a fair trial.”
Hakainde Hichilema is the president of the main opposition political party, the United Party for National Development (UPND) in Zambia.
On 11 August 2016 he stood against President Edgar Lungu in the presidential elections, where he was narrowly defeated.
Following the defeat, the UPND challenged the electoral results but their petition was thrown out by the Constitutional Court before being heard.
On 6 October 2016, Hichilema was arrested alongside UPND vice-president Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba in Luanshya while on their way to visit their supporters in prison. Police have backdated his treason charges to October 2016, alleging that he has failed to recognise Lungu’s presidency.