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Zambia's Rat in the Pot singer released on bail

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Controversial Zambian musician Fumba Chama has today been granted bail after being arrested last Wednesday as he returned from South Africa, where he had been living in self-imposed exile.

Chama fled to South Africa in January after receiving death threats over his song, Koswe Mumpoto (Rat in the Pot), which was interpreted as being critical of President Edgar Lungu and his ministers.

The song was a major hit in Zambia when it was released last December. Chama sang that the ruling elite was behaving like rats that steal food - an allegation which was strongly denied by ruling party supporters.

He was arrested in September 2017 for taking part in a protest against the government’s purchase of 42 fire engines for about $1m (£740,000) each. He fled to South Africa while on bail.

A warrant for his arrest was issued in February after he failed to appear in court on what human rights group Amnesty International called "trumped up" charges related to the protest.

Despite telling the court last Thursday that he escaped to South Africa for fear of his life, his attempt to get bail failed and he had been in police cells since.

But when he appeared in court this morning, Lusaka principal resident magistrate Mwaka Mikalile granted him bail with two working sureties from recognised institutions.

She advised the state to offer protection to all citizens and avoid situations where they have to flee the country for their own safety.

His detention had attracted international interest, with legendary Zimbabwean musician Thomas Mapfumo yesterday joining calls for his release.

“The Zambian government is targeting people like Pilato (which Chama is popularly known as) because they are standing up and demanding accountability from their government,” said Mapfumo.

“Pilato is a victim of a government that is trying to consolidate its base through the limiting of freedom of expression and in this case artistic expression.

"He is not a criminal. Instead of targeting criminals who are eroding state institutions, they are using him as a scapegoat. He must be released immediately and unconditionally.”

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