A bid by lawyers to have treason charges against Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema dropped has been rejected by a Lusaka court. Hichilema is accused of plotting to overthrow the government.
Magistrate Greenwell Malumani ruled that his court did not have the authority to overturn treason charges brought against Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema.
"The charge of treason is only triable in the High Court. The law does not place power in the subordinate court to quash the indictment. The motion to quash the treason charge is untenable," he told a packed court room.
A DW correspondent says the ruling means that Hichilema can now expect to be tried for treason by the Lusaka High Court.
Hichilema and five co-accused also face charges of using insulting language and disobeying the instructions of law enforcement agencies. Bail was granted to the accused and set at $2,000 (1,835 euros). It was not immediately clear when Hichilema would be released.
Security was tight for Wednesday's hearing at the Lusaka Magistrates' Court with riot police stopping and searching vehicles and people wanting to enter the court compound.
Right of way
Hichilema, leader of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), was arrested during a police raid on his home on April 10. He has been charged with plotting with other people to overthrow the government between October 2016 and April 2017.
In a high speed dispute on a main road on the weekend that preceded his arrest, Hichilema's convoy allegedly refused to give way to the motorcade of President Edgar Lungu. It is alleged that Hichilema endangered Lungu's life. Both men were travelling to a traditional event in Zambia's Western province.
Hichilema's arrest has raised political tensions in Zambia. Lungu said last week that he may declare a state of emergency in some areas after public buildings were torched in attacks blamed on opposition members protesting against Hichilema's detention.
The UPND says the accusation of arson is a government ploy. "They are creating deliberate confusion to justify a state of emergency. There are no UPND members who have been arrested for arson," party spokesman Charles Kakoma said.
Lungu narrowly beat Hichilema in two presidential elections by a close margin. The last campaign was marked by clashes between supporters of Lungu's Patriotic Front (PF) party and the UPND. Human rights group Amnesty International said Zambian authorities had repressed the right to freedom of expression and assembly, while police used excessive force to disperse meetings of opposition parties. The opposition says the vote was rigged, but Hichilema has so far failed in his legal efforts to challenge it. The election in August 2016 was his fifth bid for the presidency.
In October 2016, Hichilema and his UPND deputy Geoffrey Mwamba were arrested and charged with unlawful assembly and seditious practices after a party meeting, an action Amnesty called at the time a ploy to intimidate and silence the opposition. Hichilema and his deputy were granted bail after being charged with sedition.
Zambia is Africa's second biggest copper producer. However, its economy is hobbled by low commodity prices, mine closures, rising unemployment, power shortages, a widening budget deficit and diminishing reserves.of foreign currency.