Mmegi Online :: Zambian opposition leader arrested for 'spreading false news'
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Last Updated
Friday 21 September 2018, 15:09 pm.
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Zambian opposition leader arrested for 'spreading false news'

The leader of Zambia's opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) Hakainde Hichilema was on August 13, charged and arrested. That same afternoon he pleaded not guilty to one count of "publishing false news with intent to cause alarm and fear."
By Staff Writer Mon 24 Sep 2018, 04:43 am (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Zambian opposition leader arrested for 'spreading false news'








Hichilema had said on June 11, that the governing Patriotic Front (PF) had entered into an agreement with Sudan to train a party militia in that country. It followed the disclosure by the PF General-Secretary Wynter Kabimba that the PF had signed an agreement with the governing National Congress Party of Sudan to train Zambians there. Government reacted angrily to Hichilema's statement saying it threatened relations with a sister African country.Defence Minister, Geoffrey Mwamba was particularly furious insisting that the statement risked relations with Sudan where Zambian security personnel were involved in African Union (AU) peace keeping duties.  Police recorded a statement from Hichilema then and the matter seemed to have died down - until now.

Apparently the police referred it to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP): In his letter dated August 8, the DPP Mutembo Nchito directed the police to either obtain a pubic retraction from Hichilema or charge him if he would not retract: "The suspect should be summoned to appear before the investigators immediately and be given an opportunity to retract the inaccurate statement. Should he proceed in this fashion, I direct that the docket be closed and no further action should be taken. Should he refuse to retract, have the suspect arrested and arraigned in court," read the letter.The opposition leader would not repudiate the statement and was subsequently charged.

His arrest followed closely his strong criticism of "secret" salary increments that were quietly paid out in June to "holders of constitutional offices." They range from the president, ministers to Members of Parliament (MPs). The increments were paid out quietly and Hichilema was the first to alert this in the public domain. He was bristling at his press briefing of August 1, describing the increments as "immoral and a case of white-collar theft driven by greed." He said the presidential salary had gone up by 100 percent but wondered why this was the case seeing as since neither the president nor government had done anything to warrant such an increment:

"Is this what he (President Michael Sata) meant by more money in your pockets? Whilst the rest of the country's workforce has received minimal upward adjustments ranging from four percent to 15 percent, the President and his cabinet have received a windfall. This increment is highly immoral and amounts to white-collar theft motivated by self-aggrandizement and greed," he said adding, "is he paying himself for breaking many key election campaign promises he made to the people?"

"Youth unemployment is at a record high. Our women are giving birth on the floor and are required to carry buckets when going to give birth. Our cotton farmers have been given a raw deal etc. So what has Sata and his team done to handsomely reward themselves in such a manner?" he asked. The government had not been "upfront" with the matter of the increments

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perhaps fearing the public reaction which tends to be that the performance of the beneficiaries does not warrant such increments. Thus, government was clearly incensed that Hichilema was dragging the matter into the public domain and with such a stinging attack. It was forced to open up and vehemently denied that there had been any 100 percent increase to anyone's pay.

Chief Government spokesman of Information and Broadcasting Services, Minister Kennedy Sakeni, described Hichilema as merely "politicking." He said the government had merely harmonised pay points to get rid of what he said were "distortions." Subsequently, the cabinet office quite unusually issued a statement directly saying the presidential salary had gone up by 57 and not 100 percent as Hichilema claimed. Soon after President Sata, for the first time, released the "hush-hush" statutory instrument that brought the increments into effect. Government was in fact forced to own up even though the matter remains shrouded in mystery.But more was to follow for the opposition leader; police issued a call out notice, ordering Hichilema to report to Lusaka Central police station by 3:00pm on August 8. When he did the next day it was with a large crowd of supporters who eventually swarmed the station with some trying to reach the second floor offices of the Lusaka police commissioner. Scuffles broke out between the police and supporters.

Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd and in the ensuing stampede, up to 15 people were reported injured. It was a serious and potentially deadly disturbance in a limited space. The Human Rights Commission condemned the police use of "unreasonable force."Because of the commotion, Hichilema could not be interrogated by the police, prompting him to complain  of state harassment: "Police called us here to beat us. That is all they called us for. They didn't even question me," the UPND leader said afterwards.  With regard to his questioning,  he may have spoken too soon because it was only the commotion that prevented the interview. Police immediately said they wanted him to report the next day at 2:00pm; this time at the more secure police headquarters and strictly without supporters. But the opposition leader remained defiant.

Police issued another call out notice to the opposition leader, demanding that he should  report "himself at police headquarters at 2:00pm the next day."Inspector-General of Police Stella Libongani warned that a warrant of arrest would be issued for Hichilema if he did not turn up at the appointed time. He did not: Instead his lawyers went to report him indisposed. Police insisted on a medical report which they were furnished with and the new date of August 13, was agreed when he was arrested and charged. He was granted bail and the matter will be heard in the magistrate's court at a date to be announced next month. (Sila Press Agency)

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