Zambia’s information minister has denied his government signed an agreement with Sudan to train a youth militia group with an objective to terrorize opponents.
Kennedy Sakeni also denied the administration is using state institutions to suppress opposition parties from fully participating in the democratic process.
“As far as [the] government is concerned, we haven’t signed any agreement and as government we don’t intend to do so,” said Sakeni.
His comments came after Hakainde Hichilema leader of the opposition Party for National Development (UPND) accused the government of training youth in Sudan to terrorize opponents in Zambia.
The police demanded a retraction, but the opposition leader refused. Hichilema was arrested and charged with publishing false information with the intent of causing fear and public alarm.
“That is why the opposition leader is in court because he is talking about an issue, which is neither here nor there,” said Sakeni.
He declined further comments on the prosecution of the opposition leader.
“Zambia is a democratic country, which believes in the rule of law and as such, we would leave it to the courts to determine the matter,” Sakeni said. “It’s very prejudicial for us to be discussing this matter. Our law is very clear when a matter is before the court let us leave [it] to the courts of law to determine [it].”
But, supporters of the opposition leader accused the government of using state institutions to deprive opponents of exercising their freedom of expression, as enshrined in the constitution.
Information minister Sakeni said his government is making sure that the rule of law is respected by all Zambians.
“This gentleman was arrested and within a spate of six hours he was taken before a court of law. He wasn’t detained or even questioned longer than necessary,” said Sakeni.
“As a state we just follow the normal procedure and that is I think one of the achievements as a government. As a new government, we are able to determine [and] this matter before courts of law so that the courts can decide.”
Critics say the government has been intimidating and harassing opponents. They cite the prosecution of members of the opposition Movement for Multi-party democracy (MMD) including Dora Siliya as a tactic, to silence critics. But Sakeni disagrees.
“The opposition parties are participating in the democracy very well. They are able to get on stage to campaign and manage their own affairs. You will never hear of an opposition leader who is [prosecuted] on tramped up charges,” said Sakeni.
“The law enforcements do their business transparently and take matters before the courts of law. And as far as we are concerned as a government we are on course.”
Clottey interview with Kennedy Sakeni, Zambia’s information minister