Zambian opposition leaders jailed as elections near
March 24, 2016
Months ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections in Zambia, political opponents are being arrested. President Edgar Lungu has a tenuous grip on power after narrowly winning a snap election in 2015.
A Zambian opposition leader was arrested Monday and charged with defaming the president, after accusing him of partying at taxpayers’ expense while on vacation, police said.
The arrest of Eric Chanda of the 4th Revolution Party is the latest in a series of detentions of opposition figures less than five months away from presidential and parliamentary elections on August 11.
“Mr. Eric Chanda has been formally arrested for the offense of defamation of the president,” said police spokeswoman Charity Chanda, adding that he would appear in court soon.
The arrest was in connection with an article published last May in “The Post” newspaper, which accused the president of having gone on holiday to play pool and go clubbing at the taxpayers’ expense. Political observers say the arrest appears to be politically motivated, intended to disrupt Chanda’s presidential bid.
“The offense was committed last year, but why did they not bring it up there and then?” Alex Ngoma, a political science lecturer at the University of Zambia, told the AFP news agency. “One would not be wrong to conclude that they are targeting the opposition.”
Chanda, who launched his political party last year, faces up to five years in prison if convicted. He is the latest opposition figure to be detained by police this month.
Geoffrey Mwamba, vice president of the United Party for National Development (UPND), was arrested twice earlier this month, accused of training a private militia and threatening the president Edgar Lungu. He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted. He was arrested along with several others on the separate charges.
A defiant Mwamba has accused Lungu of persecuting the opposition, as tensions rise in the runup to elections. The incumbent is also battling a worsening economy fueled by increasing power shortages that are cutting into productivity.
Lungu’s grip on power is tenuous, as he has been in office little more than a year. He narrowly defeated his chief rival Hakainde Hichilema, also of the UPND, in a snap election triggered by the sudden death of his predecessor Michael Sata in October 2014.