US Senator Ben Cardin, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a letter to President Lungu (extract from

“I write with concern about the detention of opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, and urge you to ensure that he is treated humanely, in accordance with the rights put forth in the Zambian constitution and the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights. Zambia is one of Africa’s most established democracies, with a long tradition of political pluralism, respect for human rights and democracy, and peaceful resolution of conflict. I am concerned that Mr Hichilema’s detention signals the potential closing of political space in your country. During last year’s general elections, the Independent Broadcasting Authority suspended licenses for three broadcast stations and raided a newspaper, ostensibly for non-tax compliance. There were also arbitrary arrests of opposition leaders and journalists. The most recent [US} State Department Country Report for Human Rights indicates that your government has only taken ‘selective and halting steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed these abuses, targeting mostly those who opposed the ruling party’. I urge you to take proactive steps to bring an end to politically motivated arrests.


Nic Cheeseman, professor of democracy and international development, Birmingham University, UK (extract –

“Having won a presidential election in 2016 that the opposition believes was rigged, and which involved a number of major procedural flaws, Lungu desperately needs to re-legitimise himself. However, this need clashes with another, more important, imperative – namely, the president’s desire to secure a third term in office. Lacking viable opportunities (…) President Lungu has responded by pursuing another strategy altogether: the repression of dissent. Most obviously, opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema has been arrested, and (…) the opposition are not alone. Key elements of civil society have also come under fire. Professional associations now find themselves as one of the last lines of defence for the country’s fragile democracy, most notably the Law Association of Zambia. The effect has been to signal that those who seek to resist the government are likely to find themselves the subject of the sharp end of the security forces and the PF’s manipulation of the rule of law. Such abuses may help Lungu to secure the short-term goal of prolonging his stay in power, but they will threaten to undermine Zambia’s future. It will – or at least it should – be politically embarrassing for the IMF to conclude a deal with Zambia while the opposition leader is on trial on jumped-up charges, and civil society is decrying the slide towards authoritarian rule.”