THE Lusaka High Court has refused to grant Energy Minister Matthew Nkhuwa and Chembe PF member of parliament Sebastian Kopulande an order of interim injunction to restrain UPND deputy spokesperson Cornelius Mweetwa and the Mast Newspaper from occasioning any further reputational injury against them.
Lusaka High Court judge Mwila Chitabo said in his ruling that this is not a fit and proper case to grant an order for interim injunction, and accordingly dismissed the application with costs.
This is a matter in which Nkhuwa and Kopulande have sued Mweetwa, Oracle Media Production Limited trading as The Mast Newspaper, Editor-in-Chief Larry Monze and reporter Speedwell Mupuchi, for defamation.
This was as a result of an article in The Mast Newspaper in which Mweetwa revealed that Nkhuwa and Kopulande were stranded with over one million litres of fuel they imported into the country during the time Indeni Oil Refinery was on a four months “man-made” shut down.
Nkhuwa and Kopulande consequently sued the defendants in the Lusaka High Court, seeking a declaration that the said article was defamatory against them, and an order directing Mweetwa and the Mast to publish a retraction and apology to them.
The duo also wants damages for emotional distress, anguish, public ridicule and embarrassment occasioned as a result of the publication of the article.
Nkhuwa and Kopulande also sought, among other claims, an order of interim injunction restraining the defendants from publishing any further injurious statements against them in relation of the article complained of.
However, the defendants had asked the court not to grant Nkhuwa and Kopulande the interim injunction they were seeking.
Mweetwa and others contended that Nkhuwa and Kopulande had not fulfilled the requirements necessary for the granting of an interim injunction which were a clear right to relief, irreparable injury and the balance of convenience being in their favour.
And ruling on an application for an injunction on December 23, last year, judge Chitabo said this was not a fit and proper case to grant an order of interim injunction.
Judge Chitabo noted that that Nkhuwa and Kopulande were complaining of a news article that was published in the Mast Newspaper and that the said publication was of the words of Mweetwa.
“The import of the publication is that Indeni was deliberately shut down to enable individuals from the Patriotic Front such as the plaintiffs (Nkhuwa and Kopulande) to dubiously benefit from its closure. During the said closure, the Minister of Energy gave a waiver on the importation of fuel enabling him and his counterpart the second plaintiff to import a total of over one million litres of crude oil. Further the import of the publication is that because of this artificial closure Indeni had lost between K4 billion to K6 billion,” he said.
Judge Chitabo said the publication no doubt made strong allegations which if untrue, was completely libelous and causes injury to the reputations of those mentioned therein.
He, however, said he was guided by the authorities that the Court must be satisfied in all probability that the alleged libel was untrue and if written on a privileged occasion that there was malice on the part of the defendant.
Judge Chitabo said in this case, there was nothing to show the clarity of whether the alleged libel was untrue.
“It was stated in the Sata v Post Newspaper case that there has to be a balance between freedom of expression and damage to reputation. In attempting to create such a balance, this court will therefore exercise caution in light of not having any clarity of the untruthfulness of a statement,” he said.
“I therefore find that this is not a fit and proper case to grant an order for interim injunction.”
Judge Chitabo accordingly dismissed the application for an injunction with costs and granted the Plaintiffs leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal.