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Dec 21, 2018 | Zambia

Anti-graft protestors acquitted in Zambia

Hip-hop artist Chama
Hip-hop artist Chama "Pilato" Fumba, pictured at the demonstration in September. By Salim Dawood (AFP)

A Zambian court on Friday acquitted six activists, including a popular hip-hop musician, who were arrested for protesting against corruption in President Edgar Lungu's government.

The six activists, including hip-hop star Chama Fumba also known as Pilato, were arrested in September for picketing over the procurement of 42 fire engines at a cost of $1 million (880,000 euros) each, seen as emblematic of corruption fostered by Lungu.

"The demonstrators were peaceful, no property was damaged, traffic flow was not disturbed and parliamentary proceedings were not disturbed. I accordingly acquit all the accused persons," Magistrate Mwaka Mikalile said.

The activists had staged a demonstration outside parliament while then finance minister Felix Mutati was presenting the 2018 budget.

Charged for the offence of failing to obey a lawful order, they pleaded not guilty.

"The conveners were within their rights to protest but the police failed to do what was within the law," the judge said adding that it was in fact the police that violated the constitution by stopping the protest.

In court the activists celebrated the acquittal by hugging each other and the scores of sympathisers that attended the court session.

Speaking to journalists after the acquittal, one of the activists Laura Miti said that they would continue to protest against corruption in government as that was their constitutional right.

"We will continue to protest peacefully and lawfully. As civil society organisations we have the right to protest peacefully as has been pronounced by the court," she told reporters.

Pilato described the acquital as a "victory for democracy and the people of Zambia".

He was arrested in May when he returned from South Africa, where he had fled after his hit song, "Koswe Mumpoto" (Rat in the Pot), drew angry reactions from supporters of Zambia's ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party.

Zambia's opposition has accused Lungu of increasingly authoritarian behaviour.

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