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Zambia's opposition leader acquitted but remains in jail

Kathy Sikombe
May 16, 2017

A Lusaka magistrate has acquitted Zambia’s main opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema on the charge of use of insulting language towards law enforcement officers. Hichilema remains in custody facing treason charges.

Sambia Hakainde Hichilema vor Gericht in Lusaka
Image: DW/K. Sikombe

There was a heavy police presence at the Lusaka Magistrate's Court as hundreds of people flocked to the area. Entry to the courtroom was restricted and many people were turned away.

Delivering his ruling magistrate Greenwell Malumani said the state had failed to prove that opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema used insulting language towards police officers. Hichilema was arrested at his home on April 11. He chose to remain silent during the court proceedings.

No evidence

Magistrate Malumani said there was no pictorial evidence and that the state did not provide an independent person as a witness. According to the magistrate, the state witness admitted that he had not written any report, which showed he been brought to testify without evidence. Mbita Longwa, another state witness, admitted to lying on oath and asked the court for forgiveness.

The opposition in Zambia sees Hichilema's arrest as being politically motivated. "I think the judgment that has come out is a vindication for us," said Bwalya Nondo, spokesperson for the opposition National Restoration Party, shortly after Hichilema was acquitted.

"We said this arrest of Hakainde Hichilema and the subsequent detention was politically motivated and this has been proved," he added.

Map of Zambia

Justice needed

Nondo is worried about where his country is heading. He said those in power were trying to suppress those in opposition and trying to "kick out democracy completely."

Sam Phiri, a supporter of the ruling Patriotic Front, insists that all charges against the opposition leader should be dropped.

"I think they just have to release the guy, to be in a democratic country like Zambia as it is, it's everyone's concern," Phiri said. "Opposition supporters for Hakainde Hichilema need justice, we need justice to prevail."

Hichilema will remain in custody for at least one week awaiting the hearing of treason charges.

Magistrate David Samusamba, who is presiding over the hearing, told the court that the ruling would be made on Monday May 22. He would then rule on whether the alleged treason charge will be referred to the high court for committal or dismissed.

The opposition leader was arrested more than a month ago when hundreds of armed police officers ransacked his home, damaging property, beating up occupants and stealing an undisclosed amount of money.