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Zambian opposition leader detained over ‘treason’

Hakainde Hichilema, leader of the United Party for National Development, alleged fraud in Zambia’s presidential vote. PHOTO AFP

Lusaka, Zambia | AFP |¬†Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, who has refused to accept the result of last year’s presidential election, was detained Tuesday on treason charges, his lawyer said.

Police were not immediately available to confirm the charges, which came after a dispute over Hichilema’s vehicles allegedly obstructing President Edgar Lungu’s motorcade on a main road.

More than 100 armed police surrounded Hichilema’s house outside Lusaka overnight, and tear gas was fired before a raid when he was taken into custody, AFP reporters witnessed.

“They have detained him on the basis that he committed treasonable charges,” Jack Mwiimbu, Hichilema’s lawyer, told reporters outside the property.

Hichilema allegedly refused to give way to Lungu’s convoy as they were both travelling to Western province for a traditional ceremony at the weekend.

Hichilema, head of the United Party for National Development (UPND) party, has launched several legal attempts to challenge Lungu’s victory in August elections.

He says that the vote was rigged and accuses Lungu of an unprecedented bout of political repression in Zambia, which has been known for its relative stability.

The election campaign was marked by clashes between supporters of Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF) party and the UPND.

UPND secretary general Stephen Katuka told AFP that police had mounted a violent operation to detain their leader.

“They broke into the house, tear-gassed the family including small children,” said Katuka. “This is really barbaric.”

Hichilema was taken by van to a police station for questioning.

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

Hichilema, a wealthy businessman, has run for president five times and narrowly lost last August’s elections to Lungu.

Last October, Hichilema and party vice-president Geoffrey Mwamba were arrested for unlawful assembly and sedition when they tried to visit supporters in jail.

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