LUSAKA (Reuters) - Zambia’s opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema and his deputy were granted bail on Thursday after being charged with sedition, a move his team said was an attempt by the ruling party to silence dissent.
Two months ago, Hichilema’s United Party for National Development (UPND) denounced President Edgar Lungu’s re-election as fraudulent but attempts to mount a legal challenge have so far been unsuccessful.
Hichilema and Geoffrey Mwamba were detained on Wednesday accused of holding an assembly without a permit in connection with an impromptu address he gave on Sept 26 to a group of supporters in the rural town of Mpongwe, police said.
“They have been taken to court and charged with an offence of unlawful assembly and seditious practices. They have been granted bail,” Hichilema’s lawyer Jack Mwiimbu told Reuters.
Hichilema and Mwamba both pleaded not guilty and will appear again in court on Oct. 19, Mwiimbu added.
Sedition in Zambia is defined by conduct inciting people to rebel against the authority of the state, and carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.
“This is a scheme by the party in power to harass the opposition and instill fear in them,” UPND spokesman Charles Kakoma said.
“They know that they did not genuinely win the last elections and want to instill fear in those who want to speak out against what happened.”
Hichilema continues to dispute the August election outcome and in a statement before his arrest compared the government’s conduct to the limitation of freedoms experienced when Zambia was still a British colony.
Lungu told Western and Asian diplomats in Lusaka on Thursday he was happy that many local and international observers, including the European Union and African Union, considered the elections credible and largely peaceful.
“While I do acknowledge that the electoral process experienced challenges, I am happy to state that these were resolved through relevant institutions,” Lungu said in a speech.
Reporting by Chris Mfula; Editing by Joe Brock