Lusaka, Zambia | AFP | The Zambian presidency on Saturday condemned as “regrettable” a police decision to halt a prayer meeting this week at which the main opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema was due to appear.
On Thursday heavily armed police blocked entry to the capital’s Anglican cathedral where the United Party for National Development (UPND) leader had been due to make his first public appearance since being freed from jail last week.
“The action to stop a church meeting is regrettable,” Amos Chanda, spokesman for President Edgar Lungu, told reporters.
Hichilema was released last week after four months in custody on treason charges. Blocking his first public appearance since then was widely seen as highlighting a crackdown on dissent by Zambian authorities.
Nicknamed “HH”, he had been charged with treason for allegedly failing to give way to Lungu’s motorcade in April.
He disputes the results of last year’s election, which he narrowly lost, and refuses to recognise Lungu as the president.
In July Lungu decreed a 90-day state of emergency, giving the police increased powers of arrest and detention, alleging that opposition parties were behind a string of arson attacks aimed at creating “terror and panic”.
But Chanda said that “even under a threatened state of emergency police should exercise maximum restraint”.
“The police should ensure that civil liberties are not infringed upon,” he stressed.
Police officials justified their action on Thursday, alleging that the event’s organisers had failed to hand in a written notification to them.
Chanda said other planned opposition events should go ahead without police obstruction.