Court allows Zambian opposition leader to challenge treason prosecution

Hakainde Hichilema was arrested in a police raid on his home in April and charged with trying to overthrow the government.

FILE: Zambian's United Party for National Development leader Hakainde Hichilema. Picture: AFP.

LUSAKA - A Zambian court on Friday allowed opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema to challenge the prosecution over moving his treason case to the high court for trial in a case that has stoked political tension months after contested elections.

Hichilema, an economist and businessman known as "HH", was defeated by President Edgar Lungu in an election last August, which he described as fraudulent. His attempts to mount a legal challenge have so far been unsuccessful.

The United Party for National Development (UPND) leader was arrested in a police raid on his home in April and charged with trying to overthrow the government.

Hichilema's lawyers, however, said the case should not proceed to the High Court because the officer who issued the trial papers had no authority to do so.

But Magistrate David Simusamba told a hearing in his court that Hichilema's defence could seek a judicial review of the charges before the case goes to the High Court for trial.

Hichilema sat in court looking composed in a red shirt.

"I hold the view that this is a proper matter for judicial review," Simusamba said, adding that the matter should go for trial if Hichilema's lawyers fail to launch their legal challenge in the High Court within 14 days.

The magistrate adjourned the case to 12 June.

Zambia was seen as one of Southern Africa's most stable countries until relations soured between the government and opposition over the elections, which were marred by violence.

On Thursday, South African opposition leader Mmusi Maimane said Zambian immigration officials barred him from entering their country late on Thursday, stopping his visit to attend the case of the detained Hichilema.

Maimane held a rally on Friday in the South African capital Pretoria to demand that the case against Hichilema be dropped, saying the Zambian politician was facing trumped up charges.

Zambia's High Commissioner to South Africa, Emmanuel Mwamba, said in a statement on Friday that Maimane was kept away to allow the due process of the law to take its course.