Lusaka - Zambian police on Thursday arrested the leader of the country's second largest opposition party, charging him with defamation of the president.
“We have arrested Hakainde Hichilema and charged him with the offence of defamation of the president,” police spokeswoman Elizabeth Kanjela
Hichilema, who leads the United Party for National Development (UPND), was alleged to have made the defamatory remarks last weekend while visiting a market in the Lusaka slum of Kalingalinga.
He faces around three years in jail if found guilty.
He is just the latest in a series of politicians and journalists arrested for being critical of President Michael Sata.
Opposition leaders in Zambia are proscribed from holding public rallies and often visit markets to meet supporters.
After being released on bond, Hichilema left the police station accompanied by scores of his supporters and the leader of the former ruling party MMD, Nevers Mumba.
Mumba was himself arrested in early January and charged with graft.
During the commotion outside the court a police officer was hit on the head with a stone and was rushed to hospital.
Speaking to AFP Mumba later accused the government of trying to “annihilate the opposition.”
“The truth of the matter is that Sata wants to create a state of intimidation in us and he is determined to ensure that opposition leaders disappear from this country.”
“Whichever way we disappear the president will be happy. He wants to annihilate the opposition.”
Hichilema appeared in court late on Thursday, but the case could not begin as the state was not ready.
His attorney Sakwiba Sikota also leader of an opposition party, United Liberal Party (ULP) accused the government of ordering his client's arrest on political grounds, despite the case against him being incomplete.
“They rushed to arrest him quickly, (they) said we (should) come to court and now we are here, but they are now telling us that they have taken the papers to the director of public prosecution.” - Sapa-AFP