Banda’s immunity challenged in Zambia

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Lusaka - Zambian lawmakers loyal to President Michael Sata will attempt to strip his predecessor of presidential immunity on Friday, according to a parliamentary order paper obtained by AFP.

Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba is expected to present a motion which states “that Mr Rupiah Bwezani Banda who has held, but no longer holds the office of the president may be charged with any criminal offence”.

The former president faces graft allegations, which his lawyers say are part of a political ploy by Sata to purge any and all opposition.

The motion would allow charges to be brought for crimes committed during Banda's time in office as long as prosecution would “not be contrary to the interests of the state”.

The move is certain to receive the support of Sata's Patriotic Front, which holds more than a third of the seats in parliament.

Banda's lawyer Sakwiba Sikota called the motion a “total mockery of justice”, saying his client had not been charged or given a chance to defend himself.

“How can they think of removing his immunity without any charges? The people that were preparing the same indictment are not serious,” he told AFP.

“This is a serious constitutional matter and I expect members of parliament to debate intelligently.”

Banda bowed out of office after losing elections to Sata in 2011, in what was hailed as an example of a smooth transfer of power.

But Sata's government has since arrested a number of opponents, raising fears the country is sliding toward authoritarianism.

Opposition leaders and former ministers have been arrested in recent months for an array of offences said to have been committed while they were in office.

Amid the spate of arrests, the opposition has launched a campaign for Zambia to be expelled from the Commonwealth.

On Wednesday Sata personally warned foreign diplomats against engaging with the opposition on governance issues.

“What I will not accept is you touring provinces and asking the opposition parties about governance issues,” Sata told 14 foreign envoys presenting their credentials in the capital.

“If you want to ask about governance issues come to my office or go to the ministry of foreign affairs.”

Among those present were the ambassadors of Canada, Ireland, South Africa, Kenya, Israel, New Zealand and South Korea.

Watchdog Transparency International has supported calls for lifting Banda's immunity so he can answer the charges against him.

Late Zambian leader Fredrick Chiluba, who ruled from 1991 to 2001, had his immunity removed after his hand-picked successor Levy Mwanawasa presented parliament with numerous charges against him. - Sapa-AFP


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