Zambian opposition leader's lawyers ask court to dismiss treason case

Zambian opposition leader's lawyers ask court to dismiss treason case

Zambian opposition leader's lawyers ask court to dismiss treason case

The Zambian opposition UPND party called on Thursday for the immediate release of its leader Hakainde Hichilema, who is due to appear in court this week on treason charges.

Hichilema, who narrowly lost to Lungu in last year's presidential election and has refused to recognise the Zambian leader as victor as he believes the vote was stolen, was arrested last Wednesday and charged with four counts, among them treason, together with five other party supporters.

Mwiimbu said Hichilema had complained on Wednesday of feeling unwell after police fired tear gas into his house when he was arrested.

"Importantly‚ the Minister should urge that Zambian government to give access to independent medical personnel to assess Hichilema's health and to ensure that his human rights are being upheld‚" said DA spokesman on global relations and cooperation Stevens Mokgalapa.

Lungu will also not interfere in the court process, he added. "We want the court to compel the police to allow us to see our client", Mwiimbu told Reuters news agency.

Under Zambia's penal code, treason carries a death sentence and is non-bailable.

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Presidential candidate for the United Party for National Development (UPND) Hakainde Hichilema is pictured during a break from a live television debate in Lusaka, Zambia January 15, 2015.

Hichilema was taken into police custody this week for allegedly refusing to give way to Lungu's motorcade as it passed through Mongo, 500 km (300 miles) west of the capital Lusaka, last Saturday.

"It has been established that the opposition leader disobeyed police orders to clear the way, thereby putting the life of the head of state in danger", police chief Kakoma Kanganja told reporters.

The rising political temperature in Zambia, Africa's second-biggest copper producer, comes against the backdrop of an economy hobbled by low commodity prices, mine closures, rising unemployment, power shortages, a widening budget deficit and diminishing foreign-currency reserves.

He says that the vote was rigged and accuses Lungu of political repression in Zambia, which has been known for its relative stability. The Southern African country has traditionally been relatively stable but relations between the government and opposition have been fraught since last August, when Lungu's Patriotic Front (PF) beat the UPND in a presidential election marred by violence.