The United Party for National Development (UPND), Zambia’s main opposition party, says its leader, Hahainde Hichilema, has fallen ill in prison and that authorities have refused to give him access to medical care.
Hichilema is due to appear before a court over treason charges brought by the State. He is accused of blocking the motorcade of President Edgar Lungu a few weeks back.
The UPND says all efforts by his lawyers and family members to have him evacuated to the hospital had proven futile. It is unclear if he will be able to appear before the court on Wednesday (April 26.)
The political environment in Zambia today is characterized by manipulation, patronage and intimidation of perceived government opponents. We urge the government to stop using state security institutions to intimidate its own nationals.
UPND (@UPNDZM) April 24, 2017
Magistrate Greenwell Mulumani who is sitting on the case adjourned sitting last week to afford him enough time to decide whether the Lusaka court could sit on the treason case. Lawyers for the politician had earlier pushed for the charges to be dismissed.
Roman Catholic Church concerned over political climate
Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church in the country is expressing concerns over the rising tension in the political atmosphere. A statement from the church called for the release of the opposition chief and for the state to stop using dictatorial measures on opposition members.
‘‘As we have stated before, ‘The political environment in Zambia today is characterized by manipulation, patronage and intimidation of perceived government opponents. We urge the government to stop using state security institutions to intimidate its own nationals.
‘‘The police service in particular must be professional and impartial in carrying out their duties of maintaining law and order. Too many of the nation’s resources and time are wasted on politicking at the expense of real development. This culture must change for the better,’‘ they added.
Hichilema has been charged with plotting with other people between October 10 of last year and April 8 to overthrow the government. The arrest has raised political tension in Zambia, Africa’s second-biggest copper producer.
The Southern African country has traditionally been relatively stable but relations between the government and opposition have been fraught since last August, when President Edgar Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF) party beat the UPND in a presidential election marred by violence.
The opposition says the vote was rigged but Hichilema has so far failed in his legal challenge against the result.