The leader of Zambia’s opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) has denied accusations that the group’s political activities create tensions and trigger violence.
Hakainde Hichilema says his party is not to blame for protests that have turned violent.
“There is no truth in that [accusation] at all,” said Hichilema. “This is the taking away of the rights of the citizens to assemble and taking away our freedom to speak, including our fundamental rights of association.”
His comments came after police denied the UPND a permit to hold a planned rally Sunday in the capital, Lusaka. Lusaka Division police commissioner Joyce Kasosa said police did not trust the UPND to hold a peaceful rally after a party gathering last week in which a policeman was assaulted.
“The police [are] hiding behind the government and taking extreme views and this is destroying the democratic tenets on a day-by-day basis,” said Hichilema.
“What explanation would they give when [there is] a high court order for our rally to proceed, but the government and the police refused to respect the rule of law? They basically overruled a court’s decision and this does not happen in a democracy, but unfortunately, it is happening in Zambia,” he added.
Hichilema warned that Zambia’s democracy would be threatened if the government uses state institutions to intimidate and harass opposition groups.
Some Zambians have expressed concern that pronouncements and activities of opposition parties create tension, which they said, often result in violent clashes between their supporters and the police.
Hichilema was recently arrested and charged with defaming President Michael Sata, which is a crime under the constitution. He denies the charges.
“I made a statement that the government should not protect ministers from prosecution for corruption,” asked Hichilema. “How can that be antagonistic, especially when you are talking about a party and a government, which purports that they are fighting corruption?”
Meanwhile, the UPND says it will proceed with its planned rally this weekend despite the police ban.
“The ruling is clear that police should be notified and we did that and we shall go ahead and if they stop us, then the police will be causing anarchy and violence because they don’t have powers to stop a meeting,” said UPND deputy secretary-general Kuchunga Simusamba.
Police officials say they are willing to meet with the opposition group in an effort to prevent any clashes.
“We are open for dialogue. They have not come to us,” said police commissioner Joyce Kasosa.