President Edgar Lungu’s daughter Tasila, Justice minister Given Lubinda and Lands Minister Jean Kapata have sued News Diggers Media Limited, its news editor Mukosha Funga and US-based Environmental Investigation Agency in the Lusaka High Court, seeking damages for libel for linking them to the illegal sale of Mukula logs.
Tasila, Kapata and Lubinda are also seeking an order of interim injunction restraining News Diggers and Environmental Investigation Agency from publishing similar libelous and malicious articles and opinions relating to them until determination of the case.
The plaintiffs are also seeking punitive and exemplary damages from the defendants with interest.
In a statement of claim filed in the Lusaka High Court registry, Tasila, Lubinda and Kapata stated that around December 6 last year, the newspaper in its online publication and print editions carried 10 articles and opinions, among them a front page story entitled “Lungu, Tasila in Mukula cartel”, a story that was written by Funga.
The plaintiffs are claiming damages for each and every article published by the newspaper.
Other articles published during the same period were headlined “Mukula cartel, How timber trafficking networks plunder Zambian forests” and “Mukula smugglers are in govt, cartel members are exposing each other”.
The articles published by the newspaper alleged that the Tasila, Kapata and Lubinda are part of the Mukuka cartel engaged in the illegal harvesting and trade of the Mukula logs.
“The article alleged that an America based organisation called EIA released a report into smuggling of Mukula logs in Zambia which implicated President Edgar Lungu, Tasila, Kapata and a traditional leader, among other influential figures,” the claim further read.
The plaintiffs added that the News Diggers article for the most part cited EIA’s publication as the source of the article complained of.
The plaintiffs added that they were not contacted by Funga or the newspaper to verify or fact-check the story prior to its “sensational publication”.
The plaintiffs also stated that the report by EIA was circulated globally without the organisation giving them an opportunity to give their side of the story.
Tasila, Kapata and Lubinda state that Funga and the newspaper published libelous opinions without verifying facts.
The plaintiffs stated that they have suffered ridicule, contempt and embarrassment in the eyes of the ordinary members of the public because the publication of the articles was understood to mean that they are thieves.
And in an affidavit in support of an order of injunction, Lubinda stated that he believes the articles and opinions are prima facie libelous.
He stated that the Newspaper did not verify or fact-check with the plaintiffs before publishing the articles and opinions.
“I genuinely believe that going by the number of articles and opinions already published, the defendants are likely to continue publishing similar libelous and injurious articles and opinions. This shall occasion irreparable injury to us, given the embarrassment, contempt and ridicule we have already been subjected to,” stated Lubinda.