Opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema has been arrested by the Zambian police and was detained at Woodlands Police Station in Lusaka for allegedly issuing disparaging remarks against President Michael Sata and touring township markets without a police permit.
Hichilema, who is President of the United Party for National Development (UPND), was later released on a Kr5,000 bond with two working sureties. The arrest of opposition leaders has increased dramatically in recent months, as the police have detained numerous political figures on accusations that independent groups describe as politically motivated.
Police clashed with UPND cadres this morning as their leader was being arrested. Hundreds of UPND cadres are camped outside Woodlands Police Station waiting for their leader to be released.
Hichilema was first summoned to Force Headquarters before his case was transferred to Woodlands Police Station where an arrest was effected.
Police sources said that Hichilema was arrested for allegedly calling President Sata a “thief” and “corrupt” when he visited Kalikiliki and Garden Compound Markets.
Announcing the charge, Police spokesperson Elizabeth Kanjela said Hichilema was charged with defamation of the President in accordance with Section 69 of the Penal code.
“The charge is coming from the penal code section 69, that is defamation of the president, he will appear in court today at 14:00 hours,” she said.
The opposition leader was due to be arrested on Tuesday when police officers interrupted court session to give him a call out while appearing before a surbodinate court on charges of publishing false information likely to cause alarm.
Chief resident magistrate Joshua Banda described police action on Tuesday as contemptuous. The police were at Hichilema’s residence yesterday but did not find him.
Sources among the UPND and MMD say that Hichilema’s latest arrest is another attempt by President Sata to clamp down on the freedoms of association and expression since coming to power. According to the opposition, President Sata has ordered the police to arrest individuals and opposition figures at the slightest of criticism of his government’s failure to deliver on campaign promises.
MMD leader Nevers Mumba is already appearing before the magistrate courts on the Copperbelt for expressing his opinion, for meeting a traditional leader and interacting with marketeers.
Dr Mumba spent days in the cells on the Copperbelt and was again recently arrested for abuse of authority related cases while he served as Zambia’s High Commissioner to Canada.
By Peter Adamu,