Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema has been released from prison after prosecutors dropped treason charges against him.
Just before the start of the trial in Lusaka on Wednesday, prosecutors entered a ‘nolle prosequi’, indicating that they are no longer willing to press the charges against Hichilema or his co-accused.
Bradford Machila, an opposition parliamentarian, confirmed to the Mail & Guardian that Hichilema and his co-accused have been released and are returning to their respective homes. “I’m obviously very pleased that this whole miscarriage of justice has come to an end, but I’m also furious that it happened in the first place,” said Machila.
“They knew for a while that there was no merits to this prosecution. Effectively they wanted to punish him without him being subjected to a legitimate due process,” he added.
Hichilema was arrested and charged in April, in connection with a bizarre traffic incident: his motorcade allegedly failed to make way timeously for President Edgar Lungu’s motorcade, while both were attending a traditional festival. The severity of the charge brought meant that he was not eligible for bail.
Critics dismissed the charges as an attempt by President Lungu to stifle political opposition.
Hichilema’s release comes shortly after the visit to Lusaka of Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland. She met both Lungu and Hichilema, and persuaded them to commit to a dialogue process led by a Commonwealth-appointed envoy.