LAW Association of Zambia (LAZ) president Abyudi Shonga has written to News Diggers, accusing the newspaper of “unfairly and publicly attacking judges who cannot defend themselves”.

Shonga’s letter which was addressed to Editor-in-Chief Joseph Mwenda and copied to Chief Justice Irene Mambilima, stated that public attacks on the judiciary had the capacity to undermine the rule of law.

“We have observed that on Tuesday, 22nd September, 2020 you carried a story bearing the title ‘Finally, PF agrees that ConCourt did not declare Lungu eligible.’ In the said story, the following words are stated, “…what agreement do they have with the Concourt Judges? What have they promised them in exchange for this ruling?” We are mindful of, and firmly believe in, the freedom of the media as a critical component in the democratic right of freedom of expression enshrined under Article 20 of the Constitution of Zambia. However, we are equally aware of and subscribe to the functional independence of the judiciary provided for in Article 122 of the Constitution of Zambia. It is the position of LAZ that institutions such as the Judiciary are critical to the administration of justice,” Shonga stated.

“Public attacks on the judiciary, therefore, have the capacity to undermine the rule of law. Under section 4(1) of the Law Association of Zambia, Chapter 30, volume 4 of the laws of Zambia, LAZ is mandated to seek the advancement of the rule of law. Whilst the political party named in your article can take steps to voice out publicly and protect itself, the Constitutional Court Judges cannot, hence this letter. The article suggest quite clearly that the Constitutional Court Judges have been compromised.”

He stated that if Mwenda had proof that judges were compromised, he should channel his allegations to the Judicial Complaints Commission, adding that failure to do so would be undermining the rule of law.

“If proof exists that such a compromise has occurred, we insist that you channel your allegations to the Judicial Complaints Commission. It is the view of LAZ that you would be participating in undermining the rule of law when you make and publish statements asking to the one we make reference above. LAZ views your publications as critical to conveyance and dissemination of information to the public. Whilst you would be within your rights to heap constructive criticism, we cannot say the same with respect to unwarranted attacks on the Judiciary. Your media house, being a critical news disseminator upon which the public is genuinely entitled to base the formation of their opinions, LAZ calls on you to do your part in upholding the integrity of the Judiciary by desisting from unfairly and publicly attacking Judges knowing fully well that the judges cannot defend themselves publicly,” Shonga stated.

Last month, News Diggers, in their opinion, wondered why the Patriotic Front had been lying to the people of Zambia that the Constitutional Court had already declared President Lungu’s eligible to stand in 2021.

Below are excerpts from the said Editorial Opinion:

“Two very important admissions have been made in the political arena this week; one from the ruling Patriotic Front and another from the opposition United Party for National Development. The Patriotic Front has finally agreed with the Law Association of Zambia that the Constitutional Court did not declare President Edgar Lungu eligible to contest the 2021 general election. According to PF Central Committee member and chairman of the legal affairs committee, Brian Mundubule, the court only dealt with the definition of the term of office. Honourable Mundubile makes a very interesting observation regarding President Lungu’s eligibility. He says the party is aware of the fact that there are several eligibility criteria for one to stand as President, and that one of them dictates that a person wishing to stand as President of the Republic of Zambia must not have served two terms of office. He agrees with Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) president Abyudi Shonga, State Counsel, who explained last week that the ConCourt did not deal with the eligibility issue of President Lungu.”

This admission means the Patriotic Front also agrees that whoever wishes to challenge the eligibility of President Lungu will have every right to go back to the Constitutional Court to seek a declaration that the incumbent is not qualified to stand again in 2021, and the court will have to make a ruling within 21 days. So, then, we ask: why has the Patriotic Front been lying to the people of Zambia that the Constitutional Court already declared President Lungu eligible to stand in 2021? This misinformation has been peddled by senior officials of the party, among them, deputy government chief whip Honourable Tutwa Ngulube and Eastern Province Minister Honourable Makebi Zulu. Why have these people been lying to the people of Zambia?

Second question is: if the Patriotic Front now agrees that the Constitutional Court did not deal with any eligibility issue, why is the party fighting citizens like John Sangwa who are waiting for Mr Lungu to file his nomination papers so that they can ask the court to look back at this matter and pronounce itself on whether the President is eligible or not? Why are you saying there is no more debate about Mr Lungu’s eligibility when you know that no court has declared him eligible?

The third question we have for the Patriotic Front is: if they know that the court has not declared him eligible yet, why is the party insisting that Mr Lungu is the sole candidate for 2021? Why is the party expelling those who express interest to challenge President Lungu at the party convention? What gives them the confidence that the Constitutional Court will rule in President Lungu’s favour on this matter? What agreement do they have with the ConCourt judges? What have they promised them in exchange for this ruling?”

Reacting to the letter from LAZ, News Diggers managing director, Joseph Mwenda, said: “I feel Mr Shonga has deliberately misunderstood the context of our opinion. We wonder whether there is a motive, considering that he even copied his letter to the Chief Justice, but we will respond.”