15 January 2013

Zambia: Police Storm Courtroom to Arrest Opposition Leader

Photo: Zambia Reports
Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, president of the United Party for National Development (UPND).

Two Zambian Police officers in Lusaka today interrupted a court session as they attempted to arrest opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema before being thwarted and ejected by the judge.

The incident occurred when Chief Resident Magistrate Joshua Banda stood down the matter momentarily.

The officers entered the court room and followed Hichilema, who is President of the United Party for National Development (UPND) to the dock and handed a call out, asking him to report to police for questioning.

But the opposition leader's defence lawyers interjected the move and said it was unlawful for the police to issue a call out to an accused person or suspect who was in the middle of attending a court session.

When Magistrate Banda resumed the proceeding, lawyers representing Hichilema applied for adjournment of the matter, saying their client could no longer concentrate on the current case following an attempt by police to arrest him.

The state apologized on behalf of the police officers and Magistrate Banda said he would not tolerate lawlessness in his court.

Some civil society groups condemned the actions by the police.

"Such a bold move by the police is without foundation in law and seeks to send a message to any member of the judiciary dealing with politically sensitive cases," said Robert Amsterdam, international counsel to the Coalition for the Defence of Democratic Rights (CDDR). "Zambians are being deprived of an independent judiciary and rule of law when the police behave as though they are the armed wing of the Patriotic Front."

Hichilema is being tried for alleging that the PF government was training its youths in military warfare with the help of the Sudanese militia in Darfur.

He pleaded not guilty to the charge. The trial will continue this week.

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