LUSAKA – A leading Zambian opposition politician who was arrested twice last week on Thursday pleaded not guilty to a charge of training a private militia ahead of elections in August.
United Party for National Development (UPND) vice president Geoffrey Mwamba is accused of training up a band of young men in a bid to destabilise the country in the event his party loses.
“I deny the charge,” Mwamba told a packed court room, as outside police blocked thousands of chanting supporters from entering the court premises.
Jointly charged with “unlawful training” were 21 youths rounded up by police at a gym owned by Mwamba, who also pleaded not guilty.
The trial is scheduled to begin on May 3.
In a separate case, Mwamba was on Monday granted bail after being arrested for threatening to “go for (President Edgar Lungu’s) throat”.
Home Affairs Minister Davis Mwila told parliament last week that police found a pistol, ammunition and machetes when they raided the gym.
A defiant Mwamba accused Lungu of persecuting the opposition as tensions rise in the run up to the August 11 presidential vote.
Lungu’s biggest challenger is expected to be the UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema, who came second by a thin margin in last year’s election after the sudden death of president Michael Sata.
If convicted, Mwamba faces at least seven years in jail.
Zambia’s copper-dependent economy has been badly hit by the global commodity price slump, with inflation soaring to more than 20 percent.