Zambia plans to drop treason charges against the country’s main
opposition leader and free him from prison on Monday under a
deal brokered by the Commonwealth secretary-general, government
and legal sources told Reuters.

The United Party for National Development (UPND) leader
Hakainde Hichilema and five others were arrested in April and
charged with treason after Hichilema’s convoy failed to make
way for President Edgar Lungu’s motorcade.

Hichilema’s trial had been due to begin on Monday but two
sources said the prosecution would apply to the court to
discontinue the case.

The case has stoked political tensions in the continent’s No. 2
copper producer, seen as one of Africa’s more stable and
functional democracies, following a bruising election last

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland visited Zambia
last week and told reporters she had met Lungu and Hichilema
separately and that the two leaders had agreed to a process of
dialogue facilitated by her office.

“That process of dialogue, which the Commonwealth
Secretary-General Baroness Patricia Scotland is leading with
the help of Catholic bishops, starts with the release of the
opposition leader from prison,” a government source told
Reuters on Sunday, referring to local religious leaders.

“The state will discontinue the treason case in the public
interest as both the opposition leader and the head of state
are committed to burying their past and starting dialogue
envisaged to help address some of the issues the opposition
raised after the 2016 elections so that the 2021 elections are
better held.”
Lungu is committed to all aspects of the dialogue agreed
between the president and the opposition leader, the source
said, which include promoting peace, stability and public good.

“An overt act serious enough to warrant prosecution exists but
the public interest seems to be the overriding consideration,
so a nolle prosequi will be entered,” a public prosecutor told
Reuters, using the legal term for the discharge of a case.

The southern African country has always been relatively stable
but relations between the government and the opposition have
been fraught since August when Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF)
beat the UPND in a presidential election marred by violence and
which the opposition says was rigged.

It was the second time that Lungu beat Hichilema, an economist
and businessman popularly known by his initials “HH”, in a
presidential election by a razor-thin margin.

In June, church leaders including those from the influential
Catholic church, called for Hichilema’s release.

Last month Lungu invoked emergency powers to deal with “acts of
sabotage” by his political opponents, after fire gutted the
country’s biggest market.

Under emergency laws, police can prohibit public meetings,
detain suspects longer than usual, search without a warrant,
close roads, impose curfews and restrict certain people’s
Source: Reuters