LUSAKA (Reuters) - Zambian police arrested an opposition leader on Monday for saying President Edgar Lungu used public funds on a holiday last year, a police spokeswoman said, in a further sign of rising political tension ahead of August elections.
She said Erick Chanda, leader of the Fourth Revolution Party, was charged with defamation of the president following a May 9, 2015 newspaper report in which he accused Lungu of having spent taxpayers’ money at a holiday resort.
“He was arrested this morning and is currently in police custody,” police spokeswoman Charity Munganga-Chanda said.
The offense carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison. Police did not say why it took almost a year after the alleged offense to arrest and charge Chanda.
Several opposition figures were arrested two weeks ago on charges of training a militia to commit disruptive violence during the coming elections. They denied this.
Also under arrest is Geoffrey Mwamba, vice president of the main opposition United Party of National Development, who has been charged with inciting violence against Lungu. Mwamba denied wrongdoing.
Critics say that with the series of arrests, Lungu is trying to intimidate opponents ahead of the elections.
The southern African nation will hold presidential, parliamentary and local government elections on Aug. 11. Lungu and United Party for National Development leader Hakainde Hichilema are seen as frontrunners in the presidential race.
Lungu has been in power for just over year after winning a ballot triggered by the death of predecessor Michael Sata in October 2014.
Reporting by Chris Mfula; Editing by Tiisetso Motsoeneng/Mark Heinrich