In a move that has been widely criticised, the President of Zambia, Hakainde Hichilema summoned several opposition leaders, including Socialist Party (SP) President, Dr Fred M'membe and Patriotic Front (PF) Vice President Chilufya Tayali, for questioning on trumped-up charges of espionage and sabotage-related allegations. The charges were widely viewed as politically motivated, and the timing of the summons, just before Hichilema's departure for a summit in Saudi Arabia on 9 November, further fueled speculation that the president was seeking to silence his critics.
One political analyst, John Zvirahwa, criticised Hichilema`s actions as undemocratic. He accused Hichilema of hypocrisy, pointing to his frequent criticism of other African countries for their alleged poor democratic credentials. He argued that Hichilema's own actions were not any better. Zvirahwa said Hichilema was just as willing to silence dissent as any other authoritarian leader.
The political analyst further attacked Hichilema`s actions indicating that they were a betrayal of the democratic ideals that he claims to uphold.
“The crackdown on the opposition has a chilling effect on free speech and political expression in Zambia. Hichilema is instilling fear in the opposition. Many opposition leaders and activists are now living in fear of arrest and persecution by Hichilema and this is also spilling over to the general population.
“His actions are a betrayal of the democratic ideals that he once championed thereby demonstrating his hypocrisy. Hichilema`s crackdown on the opposition is a stain on his presidency, and it casts a shadow over Zambia's reputation as a democracy. If Zambia is to truly live up to its democratic ideals, Hichilema must end his persecution of the opposition and allow for open and fair debate,” said Zvirahwa.
Meanwhile, Hichilema also suspended 17 opposition members of parliament for 30 days following trumped-up charges of misconduct. The suspensions were seen as an attempt to weaken the opposition and consolidate and entrench his stranglehold on power.