84 Zambian separatists in court for treason

2013-11-02 12:00

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Lusaka - Dozens of Zambian separatists appeared in court Friday on charges of treason for trying to create a new state called Barotseland in the west of the country.

A total of 84 defendants, mostly from the Lozi tribe, were rounded up in a recent crackdown on those protesting for Barotseland, a state in the country's impoverished west, to secede from the copper-rich southern African country.

The defiant secessionists demanded on Friday that their trial be moved from the capital Lusaka to Barotseland.

One of the activists, Hillary Ntoka, argued that they would not get a fair trial in Lusaka and suggested that Zambia allow the Commonwealth to organise their hearing elsewhere.

"I am not a Zambian and... I have been arrested and detained illegally in Zambia," said Ntoka.

"I am a Barotzish. Barotseland is not part of Zambia and it shall never be part of Zambia," he charged in a packed court room.

"Take us to the Commonwealth..., we can't get a fair trial from the Zambian courts and we don't trust these courts," he said.

The defendants were not asked to enter pleas.

Magistrate Aridah Chulu freed 30 of the activists after the state decided not to proceed with prosecution. No reason was given for the decision.

The rest of the group was ordered to return to court on November 15.

A treason conviction in Zambia could carry the death penalty.

The secessionist bid dates back decades.

In January 2012 police broke up a secessionist meeting with live fire, igniting riots that left two people dead in the province's largest town of Mongu.

That incident rekindled the secessionist fire, which had been dormant since the 1990s.

President Michael Sata then ordered the military to deal with the movement.

Security forces arrested the 84 who were trying to hoist a Barotseland flag, and were chanting anti-government slogans.

Barotseland was originally a protectorate of Britain, but entered into a deal at the end of colonial rule in 1964 to become a province of Zambia.

Under the agreement signed with independent Zambia's first president, Kenneth Kaunda, the region was supposed to have limited self-rule, but the Lozi say that agreement was never respected.

Read more on:    zambia  |  southern africa

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