LUSAKA. — Zambia’s leading opposition leader yesterday said he has always been innocent of the treason charges he was slapped with.
Hakainde Hichilema, who was freed by a judge yesterday morning after the state prosecutor dropped charges against him of plotting to overthrow the government, said he remains resolute that the treason charge was a political machination meant to silence him.
Hichilema and five others were arrested in April this year and have been in custody since then as treason is not bailable in Zambia.
“We have been innocent and shall be,” he said in a brief statement posted on his Facebook page. He however said he wanted a better Zambia.
The opposition leader later told his supporters at the party’s secretariat that he was committed to peace and stability of the country in order to ensure development. He said the country was divided on political lines and called for purpose of unity from all stakeholders.
The opposition leader further said the time he spent in prison had not crushed him but made him even stronger. “We cannot continue living the way we are, it is uncomfortable. It is our collective duty to bring back unity in our country. We are so divided,” he added. His release sparked wide celebrations in the Zambian capital as his convoy was driven from the Chimbokaila Prison where he was held to the party’s secretariat.
Hichilema’s arrest had heightened tension in the southern African nation after last year’s disputed elections, with stakeholders calling for dialogue to ease the tension.
Last week, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scott visited Zambia and met both President Edgar Lungu and the opposition leader where she facilitated a process of dialogue between the two political foes.
Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo also visited the southern African nation and held talks with Lungu and the opposition leader.
In June, church leaders from the influential Catholic Church held talks with Lungu and called for the release of the opposition leader in order to ease tension in the country. The church leaders also visited the opposition leader in prison.
Hichilema, 55, is a wealthy businessman who narrowly lost to Lungu in last year’s elections but has refused to concede defeat, claiming the vote was stolen from him. — Xinhua.