Two ministers, Lungu’s daughter sue Diggers over Mukula smuggling exposè

Justice Minister Given Lubinda, his Lands counterpart Jean Kapata and President Edgar Lungu’s daughter Tasila have sued News Diggers Media Limited, its editor Mukosha Funga and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) in the Lusaka High Court, demanding damages for libel.

The three have sued Funga, News Diggers Media Limited and EIA as first, second and third respondents respectively, in connection to a story on illegal Mukula trade which was published in News Diggers! and derived from an EIA report.

Lubinda, Kapata and Tasila have lamented that their characters and reputations have been injured as a result of the said article which alleged that they are part of a Mukula Cartel engaged in the illegal harvesting and trade of Mukula logs.

They are now seeking an order of interim and permanent injunction restraining, Funga, News Diggers! and EIA from publishing similar libelous and malicious articles and opinions relating to them.

The three are also seeking damages against all the defendants for libel contained in News Diggers! newspaper’s edition of December 6, last year, titled “Lungu, Tasila in Mukula cartel” as well as damages against EIA for libel contained in its publication of December 2019, titled “Mukula cartel how timber trafficking networks plunder Zambian forests”.

Lubinda, Kapata and Tasila also want damages against the defendants for libel in News Diggers’ editorial opinions titled “Mukula smugglers are in govt, cartel members are exposing each other”, “Kampyongo said criminals like using his name, Kapata to smuggle Mukula. Why”, “Remember Kapata said Mukula proceeds were not remitted to Treasury” and “Tasila must learn from Henry Banda”, among other articles and opinions.

The trio is further seeking punitive and exemplary damages, interest and costs.

In a statement of claim filed in the Lusaka High Court principal registry, Tuesday, Lubinda, Kapata, Tasila stated that on December 6 last year, the newspaper in its News Diggers! online and print newspaper, carried a front page headline story entitled “Lungu,Tasila in Mukula cartel” which was reported by Funga.

“The article published by News Diggers! alleged that the plaintiffs are part of a ‘Mukuka Cartel’ engaged in the illegal harvesting and trade of Mukula logs. The said article specifically read as follows; “an American based organisation called Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has released a report into smuggling of Mukula logs in Zambia, which has implicated President Edgar Lungu, his daughter Tasila, justice Minister Given Lubinda, his lands counterpart Jean Kapata and a traditional leader, among other influential figures’…” read the statement of claim in part.

“EIA’s publication was circulated globally through print and electronic media. EAI also circulated a video relating to the allegations in the aforesaid publication, and the plaintiffs will rely on the said publication and video to their full effect.”

The plaintiffs noted that News Diggers’ article, for the most part, cited EIA’s publication as the source of the information.

Lubinda and the other two others further stated that neither Funga nor the newspaper contacted them to verify or fact check the story, prior to its “sensational publication”.

“Notwithstanding the serious allegations contained in the said publication, the plaintiffs will aver that at no point, prior to the release and wide circulation of the EIA’s publication, were they given opportunities to give their side of the story, and thus to verify the information, as allegedly given by persons whose identies and names were not known,” read the statement of claim.

Lubinda, Kapata and Tasila lamented that consequently, in the eyes of ordinary members of the public, they had suffered ridicule, odium, contempt and embarrassment as the articles, opinions and publication complained of meant and were understood to mean that they were corrupt, do not care about poor Zambians, were thieves, morally bankrupt, selfish and were not fit to hold public office.

They added that the said articles, opinions and publication by the defendants were false and highly malicious.

The trio further stated that the non-verification or fact checking herein coupled with the criminal tagging of the plaintiffs and the general language used in the articles, opinions and publication propel the said articles, opinions and publications beyond fair commentary.

Lubinda, Kapata and Tasila stated that freedom of the press and media freedoms generally, do not entail discarding media or journalism ethics, scandalizing and humiliating other persons.

They added that all efforts to resolve the issues have failed.

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