News Diggers Media Limited and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) have submitted that they will be pleading the defence of justification and fair comment on a matter of public interest when they file their defence in the Mukula smuggling case.

The two have further opposed to an application for an order of interim injunction in which Justice Minister Given Lubinda and two others want the defendants restrained from publishing defamatory articles against them.

In this matter, 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 EIA in the Lusaka High Court, demanding damages for libel.

The three 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.

They are seeking an order of interim and permanent injunction, restraining Funga, News Diggers and EIA from publishing similar 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 the opinions of News Diggers! Newspaper 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.

But in their separate affidavits in opposition to an application for interim injunction, News Diggers managing director Joseph Mwenda and EIA executive director Alexander Von Bismarck stated that they would be pleading the defence of justification and fair comment on a matter of public interest when they file their defence.

Mwenda stated that News Diggers Media Limited was a Newspaper publication which publishes various articles on matters of public interest.

“I have read the plaintiffs statement of claim and I have also considered the evidence in our possession and the investigations we have conducted on the subject matter of this case and also considering the general conduct of the plaintiffs in the course of their public duties and the conduct of their private business,” stated Mwenda.

And Bismarck stated that the EIA’s mission was to protect endangered wildlife, forests and global climate and to operate at the intersection between increasing global demand and trade and the accelerating loss of natural resources and species.

He further stated that his agency achieved its mission by conducting undercover investigations of criminal activity, a wide variety of scientific, economic and social primary evidence, and campaigning expertise were combined to achieve systematic environmental breakthroughs.

Bismarck stated that in relation to the case at hand, the EIA conducted a thorough investigation into the trade of Zambian Mukula – a subject which is discussed widely in Zambia, on the internet in the last few years.