Critics speak out against Zambian 'dictator'

19 June 2017 - 07:33 By AFP
Zambian President Edgar Lungu (C) is escorted as he arrives to swear in as President at Heroes Stadium in Lusaka on September 13, 2016 in Lusaka.
Zambian President Edgar Lungu (C) is escorted as he arrives to swear in as President at Heroes Stadium in Lusaka on September 13, 2016 in Lusaka.
Image: AFP PHOTO / DAWOOD SALIM

Nearly a year after coming to power in a contested election, Zambian President Edgar Lungu is facing a growing chorus of criticism over his government's moves to clamp down on dissent.

"Zambia eminently qualifies to be branded a dictatorship," the country's religious leaders said at the weekend, the latest sign that opposition to Lungu's authority is spreading.

At the heart of the tension is the arrest and continued detention of opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, a wealthy businessman who has run for president five times and narrowly lost out to Lungu in August last year.

His United Party for National Development unsuccessfully tried to contest what it called a stolen election and in April Hichilema was arrested on treason charges after his convoy allegedly refused to give way to the presidential motorcade.

He has been moved to a maximum security prison and it is unclear when he will return to court.

The authorities have kept up pressure on his supporters, including blocking South Africa's DA leader Mmusi Maimane from attending Hichilema's trial last month.

"Hakainde's arrest for treason was at first dismissed as an intimidatory gimmick by Lungu," said Telesphore Mpundu, the archbishop of the Lusaka diocese, but "outrage over Hichilema's arrest and incarceration is growing".

Treason is a non-bailable offence in Zambia, with a minimum prison term of 15 years and a maximum sentence of death.

Lungu did not mince his words in last year's campaign, warning political rivals and activists that "if they push me against the wall, I will sacrifice democracy for peace".

X