LUSAKA, Zambia — A Zambian opposition leader and presidential candidate who recently protested the incumbent’s election win was released on bail Thursday after pleading not guilty to charges of sedition and unlawful assembly.
United Party for National Development leader Hakainde Hichilema, who lost the August election to incumbent President Edgar Lungu, was arrested this week and accused of addressing a crowd without a police permit.
Hichilema reportedly urged people not to recognize Lungu’s re-election. Also arrested and released on the same charges was Hichilema’s deputy, Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba.
The charge of sedition, which covers incitement to rebellion, carries a maximum seven-year prison sentence.
The men were arrested in Luanshya, about 500 kilometers (310 miles) from the capital, Lusaka. Police used tear gas to disperse party supporters who protested the arrests and arrested more than 20 of them.
Lungu averted a runoff election in August by winning just over 50 percent of the votes, but the opposition alleged polling irregularities and went to court. The nation’s top court then rejected the opposition petition to block his inauguration.
Zambia’s record of peaceful transitions of power had been held up as a democratic model in Africa, but the campaign was marred by street clashes.
The political tension has been exacerbated by this southern African nation’s economic struggles, which are fueled by the fall in prices of copper, its main export.