Zambia drops treason charges against opposition leader

Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema was freed by a judge on Wednesday after the state prosecutor dropped treason charges against him.

“The DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) has decided to terminate these proceedings by virtue of her constitutional powers. Therefore, you’re hereby discharged,” said high court judge Charles Chanda.

This is in keeping with the outcome of Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland’s visit to Zambia two weeks ago. The Commonwealth scribe told reporters after the visit that, she had met Lungu and Hichilema separately and that the¬†two leaders had agreed to a process of dialogue facilitated by her office.

Hichilema and five others were arrested in April and charged with treason after his convoy failed to make way for President Edgar Lungu’s motorcade. His release could help defuse tensions in the southern African country, where Lungu imposed a state of emergency in July.

The case has heightened political friction in Zambia, seen as one of Africa’s more stable democracies, after a bruising election last year in which Lungu’s Patriotic Front defeated Hichilema’s United Party for National Development.

Hichilema, an economist and businessman widely known by his initials HH, mounted an unsuccessful legal challenge claiming the poll was rigged.

Government and legal sources had told Reuters on Sunday that Zambia’s government would drop the treason charges against Hichilema and free him from prison under a deal brokered by the Commonwealth secretary-general.

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