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Zambia row over ex-President Lungu’s house arrest claims

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BBC


Zambia’s former President Edgar Lungu has said that he was “practically under house arrest”, accusing police of a plot to forcefully detain him “for no reason”.

Mr Lungu said police were mobilising to arrest him at night from his residence in the capital, Lusaka.

But a presidential spokesperson dismissed the claims, saying that the former leader “has never been placed under house arrest”.

It comes a few days after the former leader was quoted as saying that there could be a change of government in the country before the 2026 general election.

Mr Lungu announced a comeback to politics last October, prompting the government to withdraw his retirement benefits.

He had retired from politics after losing the presidency to Hakainde Hichilema in 2021.

The former leader has been accusing the government of victimising him and members of his Patriotic Front (PF) party to block his return to politics.

His wife, former First Lady Esther Lungu, has been accused of corruption involving cases of theft of motor vehicles and title deeds. She denies the allegations.

The government has denied targeting Mr Lungu and asked him to give his successor time to deliver his campaign promises.

On Wednesday, Mr Lungu said he had been subject to numerous unconstitutional actions by the state after leaving office.

He claimed police were under instructions to “ambush me at night, abduct, embarrass, and forcefully detain me like a hardcore criminal”.

“As far as I am aware, I have not committed any crime that would warrant the government, through the police, to start scheming against me in this manner,” Mr Lungu added.

It is not clear if there is still a police presence at his home on Thursday and police did not immediately respond to BBC inquiries on the matter.

But State House spokesman Clayson Hamasaka later denied Mr Lungu’s claim, saying the former leader was “freely traversing our towns and cities, exercising his rights to free speech and association – freedoms he once denied to others”.

“Currently, Mr Edgar Lungu is an active opposition politician in Zambia. The laws of the country clearly define the expectations for an opposition leader,” Mr Hamasaka said in a statement.

Attending a church service last Sunday, Mr Lungu warned of a regime change before the next election, saying “a baby can be born before nine months”.

Police chief Graphael Musamba said Mr Lungu would be summoned to explain his statement, local media reported.

Information Minister Cornelius Mweetwa said the government was “carefully studying” Mr Lungu’s remarks, terming them “hair-raising and startling”.

It comes a few days after the police warned that Mr Lungu risked being arrested and prosecuted for “engaging in activities that disrupt public order and safety”.

A crowd of people thronged around him as he walked around the streets of Lusaka two weeks ago, ostensibly to assess the reported high cost of doing business in the city.

In February, the former president asked citizens to call for an early election, accusing his successor of failing to manage the economy.

The former leader was last year warned against jogging in public, as police described his weekly workouts as “political activism”.

Meanwhile, a human rights body has called on the Zambian government to quash the conviction of an opposition official two weeks ago for apparently defaming the president.

Raphael Nakacinda, a senior PF official, was sentenced on 17 May for his 2021 remarks, alleging that President Hichilema had coerced judges into passing judgments favourable to him.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Nakacinda’s 18-month prison sentence would have “a broad chilling effect” on the right to freedom of expression in Zambia.

The Zambian government is yet to respond to the HRW statement.