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August 30, 2012

Zambia Opposition Unhappy with Government ‘Intimidation’ Tactic

by Peter Clottey

The leader of Zambia’s opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) says the government is using state security agencies to intimidate party supporters and needs to stop the practice.

Hakainde Hichilema said President Michael Sata’s government is intolerant of dissenting views.

“This is a clear demonstration by the ruling party that they are intolerant to people with diverging views,” said Hichilema. "Secondly, it is a clear affront against democracy.

“They will like to silence everybody and anybody [and] that is not just us in the opposition and it is also the church,” he added. “Not long ago, they deported a Catholic priest who talked about the growing gap between the rich and the poor.”

Hichilema’s comments came after police searched offices of the UPND for what officials said were possible seditious materials.  Police said later they did not find any such materials.

UPND lawyers are now considering their next move after accusing the government of intimidation and harassment, Hichilema said.

The opposition leader also demanded that Defense Minister Geoffrey Mwamba prove his claims that the opposition had plotted to assassinate President Sata.

“I’m one of those people who has challenged the minister of defense to institute an investigation, as to who wants to assassinate the president,” Hichilema said. “I challenged the defense minister to substantiate, what he said, and I know what he said, has no validity, and this is unacceptable from a government minister.”                                

Hichilema was arrested recently after accusing the government of training a militia in Sudan to terrorize the opposition - an accusation the government denied.

Supporters of the opposition leader said the government used state institutions to take away constitutionally guaranteed rights of free expression following Hichilema’s arrest.

But Information Minister Kennedy Sakeni told VOA his government is making sure that the rule of law is respected by all Zambians.

“This gentleman was arrested and within a [span] of six hours he was taken before a court of law. He wasn’t detained or even questioned longer than necessary,” said Sakeni.

“The law [enforcers] do their business transparently and take matters before the courts of law," he added. "And as far as we are concerned as a government, we are on course.”

Clottey interview with Hakainde Hichilema, opposition UPND leader