Star Zambian musician freed on bail ahead of trial

Lusaka (AFP) –


A Zambian court on Monday released on bail a popular protest musician, who was arrested last week when he returned home having fled the country fearing for his life.

Hip-hop musician Chama Fumba, widely known as Pilato, was detained last week after he returned home from South Africa, where he had spent four months.

He fled Zambia after receiving threats from supporters of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) over his hit song "Koswe Mumpoto" which in the local Bemba dialect translates to "rat in the pot".

The song was widely seen as accusing President Edgar Lungu and his ministers of being corrupt.

An arrest warrant was issued last month when the 34-year-old, who is also a prominent anti-corruption campaigner, failed to appear in court as he was abroad.

Magistrate Mwaka Mikalile was convinced that Pilato's life was in danger and that the musician was justified in fleeing Zambia.

"I have had the opportunity to watch the video that he tendered before court. His life was indeed threatened and the police did not do anything," said Mikalile. "The threats ought to have been dealt with by the police".

Pilato was freed on condition he pays 30,000 kwacha ($2,950) in bail money.

His trial, along with five other activists accused of staging an illegal protest outside parliament last year, is due to start on Friday. They all pleaded not guilty to charges during their pre-trial hearing last Thursday.

They were protesting against the procurement of 42 fire-fighting vehicles at a cost of $1 million (850,000 euros) each -- an example of alleged graft under Lungu.

Scores of sympathisers, including the main opposition United Party for National Development leader Hakainde Hichilema attended the hearing on Monday.

Hichilema told reporters that he was in court "to show support to citizens in difficult situations like this".