A former Zambian minister and a leading critic of President Edgar Lungu appeared in court on Wednesday to deny charges that he had profited from the proceeds of crime.
Chishimba Kambwili has emerged as one of the most prominent voices speaking out against Lungu, who is accused of an increasingly authoritarian rule and of cracking down on dissent.
Lungu had been due to face an opposition motion of impeachment in parliament on Wednesday but the process was delayed by officials who claimed more time was needed to consider the process.
Kambwili, who has been in the hospital for an undisclosed condition since his arrest on Thursday, appeared in court under heavy police guard.
“I understand the charge and plead not guilty,” Kambwili told magistrate Mwaka Mikalile after she read the 34 counts faced by the dissident lawmaker from the governing Patriotic Front party who previously served as foreign minister and Lungu’s information minister.
He has since fallen out with Lungu and repeatedly accused the president and government of being corrupt.
Lungu has denied accusations that he is creating a dictatorship in Zambia and has accused rivals of trying to overturn the 2016 election result.
Kambwili was ordered to return to court on June 4 for trial and was released on $1,000 (800 euros) bail.
Several opposition leaders were in court to support Kambwili.
After the hearing, opposition UPND party leader Hakainde Hichilema — another fierce critic of Lungu — accused the president of intimidating his opponents.
“This is not how you should run the country. They think running the country is to brutalise some people. A dictator has no true friend other than his wife and family,” he said.
Lungu had been due to face a motion of impeachment on Wednesday tabled by opposition parties in parliament — but the National Assembly said in a letter that the hearing would be delayed, prompting anger from Lungu’s critics.
“This appears to be a delaying tactic and we suspect the executive is interfering with the work of parliament,” UPND spokesman Charles Kakoma told AFP.