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Zambia opposition leader faces High Court treason trial

(FILES) This file photo taken on March 2, 2016 shows opposition United Party for National Development president Hakainde Hichilema (C) talking to journalists before being dispersed with supporters athe Woodlands Police Station in Lusaka.
Zambia's defeated election candidate Hakainde Hichilema on October 10, 2016 vowed to step up his battle to prove that the vote was rigged, after he was released on bail following his arrest. Hichilema, head of the United Party for National Development (UPND), dismissed Edgar Lungu's victory in August elections and said Zambia was enduring an unprecedented bout of political repression.
 / AFP PHOTO / Dawood SALIM

Zambia’s opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema will face a High Court trial over treason charges and remain in police custody, a magistrate ruled on Thursday.

Hichilema was arrested in April for allegedly failing to give way to President Edgar Lungu’s motorcade and has so far been held in detention for nearly two months.

The incident led to the leader of the United Party for National Development being accused of endangering Lungu’s life and treason charges followed.

“I am in court because of hatred. This has everything to do with hatred,” Hichilema told journalists inside the courtroom.

His lawyers asked the court to throw out the treason charge, arguing it was baseless, but the magistrate referred the case to the High Court with the date for the hearing yet to be announced.

Treason suspects are not eligible for bail in Zambia and, if found guilty, Hichilema could face a possible death sentence.

Hichilema said he hoped the trial would start soon and criticised the police, accusing them of failing to properly investigate the case.

“We need a dedicated judge to deal with our matter expeditiously,” he said.

Zambia is considered one of the most stable countries in Africa and Hichilema’s arrest and detention has been widely criticised by human rights groups.

In a show of support, the leader of South Africa’s main opposition party, Mmusi Maimane, also tried to visit Hichilema in Zambia last month but was barred from entering the country.

The treason case comes after Hichilema made a fifth unsuccessful bid for the presidency last year.

He refused to recognise Lungu as president and has challenged the narrow poll defeat in court.

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