Defending Forests and People in Court: The Zambia Case

In December 2019, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released a groundbreaking report about one of the most egregious timber trafficking systems exposed on the African continent. The report centers on Zambia and the illegal trade of  the rosewood species commonly identified as “mukula” (Pterocarpus tinctorius), despite its protection by the the international convention on endangered species (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora or CITES). Following the release of EIA’s expose, there was an immediate outcry from Zambian citizens, demanding transparency and accountability. Social media platforms became the locus of crowdsourcing information on the illegal trade and its impacts. People demonstrated their collective power and anger at an unjust system that had hampered communities and associations, while a few were allegedly making huge profits from the sale of the rosewood trees. 

This is when two ministers at the time, Given Lubinda and Jean Kapata, and the daughter of the former Zamabian president, Tasila Lungu, pursued EIA in court. Their attack was also directed at The News Diggers!, one of the few remaining  critical free press voices left in the country. The plaintiffs claim that EIA and The News Diggers! had defamed them. 

Fast forward, two years later and a few months after the release of new evidence about the Mukulagate and its high institutional backing under the Lungu presidency, EIA and The News Diggers! presented their joint defense. In the document filed in court on January 21st, the two defendants reject all allegations of wrongdoing and offer a series of new evidence that further demonstrates, if needed, the robustness of EIA’s finding and investigation. 

The defense presented by EIA and The News Diggers! opens a new chapter in the fight against timber poaching and corruption, and in support of a free press in Zambia. We invite everyone to take a look at it, it is only ten pages long. We also understand not everyone has the time and energy to read a document worded for the court, we will do our best in the coming days and weeks to help you identify and digest key elements from its critical new evidence.