Zambia halts church appearance by opposition leader

Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema waves at his supporters after being released from prison after treason charge against hime were dropped on August 16, 2107 in Lusaka. Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema was released from prison on August 16, and the treason charges against him were dropped shortly before his trial was to begin in Lusaka. Hichilema has been in custody since April over an incident in which he allegedly failed to give way to President Edgar Lungu’s motorcade. / AFP PHOTO / DAWOOD SALIM

Zambian police on Thursday barred entry to the capital’s cathedral where opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema had been due to make his first public appearance since being freed from jail.

Hichilema was released last week after four months in custody on treason charges, in a case widely seen as highlighting a crackdown on dissent by Zambian authorities under President Edgar Lungu.

“The organiser did not notify the police. This notification should be done in writing,” Lusaka province police commissioner Nelson Phiri told AFP, declining to give further details.

Heavily armed police blocked entry to the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Cross, AFP reporters said, with roadblocks erected on many routes to the building.

Hichilema, often known as “HH”, had been charged with treason for allegedly failing to give way to Lungu’s motorcade in April.

He disputes the results of last year’s election, which he narrowly lost, and refuses to recognise Lungu as the president.

“The main reason why they have stopped us is that ‘HH’ was going to attend,” said prayers organiser Simon Chihana, head of the International Fellowship of Christian Churches.

“They said that he is security sensitive to them and they would not allow him to attend.”

Charles Kakoma, spokesman for Hichilema’s UPND party, told AFP that it was “a clear violation of people’s freedom of worship”.

Treason charges were dropped against Hichilema after Commonwealth secretary-general Patricia Scotland held talks with Lungu and Hichilema.

She called for Zambian political leaders to show that the country “remains a symbol of peace and a beacon of stability, unity and political tolerance”.

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