Civil society organizations and SLAPP lawsuit victims deliver 213,432-strong petition to EU Commission Vice-President Vĕra Jourová

Presenting the petition to EU Commissioner Věra Jourová Presenting the petition to EU Commissioner Věra Jourová (© Thomas Cytrynowicz)

Brussels, 1 February 2022: On Tuesday, representatives of the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE), together with two individuals affected by Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), handed over 212,432 signatures to Věra Jourová, Vice-President and Commissioner for Values and Transparency of the European Commission. The petition, launched in July 2021 by the organizations Rainforest Rescue and the Munich Environmental Institute, who are themselves facing SLAPPs, calls on the European Commission to propose an Anti-SLAPP Directive that effectively protects all those affected by vexatious litigation across the EU. 

SLAPP cases on the rise across Europe

The number of people and organizations across the EU being targeted by so-called SLAPP lawsuits is constantly increasing. SLAPPs are abusive lawsuits filed with the purpose of shutting down acts of public participation, including public interest journalism, peaceful protest or boycotts, advocacy or whistleblowing. Wealthy and powerful individuals abuse the law to force their critics into time-consuming and costly legal proceedings aimed at silencing them.

Given the threat to fundamental rights posed by SLAPPs, CASE considers a strong EU anti-SLAPP law necessary to protect democratic values, such as freedom of expression and the right to protest across the EU. An anti-SLAPP EU directive, as detailed in the Model EU Directive drafted by the CASE coalition, would provide a high and uniform level of protection against SLAPPs in all EU countries and serve as a model across the continent.

213.432 citizens, 170+ civil society groups urge change   

CASE presented the call by 212.432 people for strong legal safeguards against SLAPPS to Vice President Jourová on the heels of the public consultation that the Commission launched to map the SLAPP phenomenon. 172 Civil Society groups from across Europe have joined the call, including the Coalition for Women in Journalism, and Maltese NGOs Aditus, Repubblika, and PEN Malta, inspired by the experience of murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who faced multiple SLAPPs now inherited by her family. The 146 submissions by stakeholders were thus backed by the voices of hundreds of thousands of people across Europe, who want the EU to put an end to the abuse of the justice system via SLAPPs.

In its own submission to the Commission’s consultation, CASE argues that any measures introduced by the Commission must address the full scale of the problem - encompassing both cross-border and domestic SLAPPs.

The Commission is set to present an EU-wide anti-SLAPP initiative on 23 March.

You may find pictures of the petition delivery here shortly after the event.

QUOTES: 

"I am glad that so many Europeans recognize the threat that SLAPPs represent against a free press. These lawsuits have kept me tied up for years, cost me a lot of money and work, and are extremely distracting from your work as a journalist. I have had moments that I was drafting a next article or even blog post and worried that the next legal case would present itself, from the same clique of people, the day after publication. It's debilitating and any initiative to end these practices would be welcome.", commented Okke Ornstein, who is a Dutch journalist who was targeted for his work exposing corruption in Panama. Ornstein was imprisoned in Panama for criminal defamation after writing about the convicted fraudster Monte Friesner in 2016. Upon his return to the Netherlands following his release, he then faced multiple civil defamation lawsuits filed by Friesner’s associates.

“In Poland, strategic lawsuits are a common tool used to threaten, silence and humiliate activists and journalists. Atlas of Hate is being sued by seven local governments for condemning their discrimination against LGBT people, and the battle is not fair: Well-paid lawyers and public authorities are targeting a small group of activists working on a voluntary basis. It is sad that in a democratic country, in democratic Europe, the right to discriminate is better protected than the citizens fighting for their rights. That's why we need an EU anti-SLAPP law. SLAPPs corrode democratic values such as freedom of speech and the rule of law. The new EU directive should prevent any future SLAPPs and protect the victims”, said Kamil Maczuga, who  has co-authored the Atlas of Hate (AoH) research. Along with Jakub Gawron, Paulina Pająk and Paweł Preneta, Kamil is being sued for defamation by several municipalities after having included them on the interactive map on the Atlas of Hate website. AoH is monitoring Anti-LGBT declarations made by local Polish authorities. Maczuga is personally involved in three of the seven SLAPPs against AoH.  

"A SLAPP is not only a slap in the face of the person who is forced to invest a lot of time, money and energy in defending themselves in court, but also in the face of constitutional and democratic principles per se. If we want to protect these, it is high time for a European anti-SLAPP law. If we already would have had anti-SLAPP back legislation in 2017 - when we were sued by the the agricultural minister of the autonomous province of Bolzano and more than 1370 farmers -   my colleague Karl Bär probably would not have to stand trial still today for haven spoken out against high pesticide use in the apple industry in Northern Italy.", said Veronika Feicht, campaigner at the Munich Environmental Institute.

"SLAPPs not only hinder the organisations and activists who are directly affected by a lawsuit, but can have more far-reaching consequences: Rainforest Rescue was sued in Germany by an Indonesian company because we denounce rainforest destruction in Indonesia. The fact that the company has succeeded in dragging us into court in Europe puts environmentalists in Asia at risk. The EU Commission must therefore live up to its global responsibility", said Marianne Klute, chairwoman of Rettet den Regenwald / Rainforest Rescue.

"Ordinary people all over Europe are looking to the European Commission now to propose a law that protects our rights, and stops corporations from using malicious lawsuits to thwart journalists, campaigners and whistleblowers.", said Eoin Dubsky, campaigner at SumOfUs.

“The growing use of gag lawsuits by powerful businessmen and politicians to silence journalists and shield themselves from public scrutiny is a threat to press freedom, to the public’s right to be informed and beyond that to democracy. This scrutiny is the lifeblood of healthy democratic societies. The reality is that for every journalist threatened with violence in Europe, a hundred more are silenced discreetly by letters of threats sent by law firms. This situation must stop. We call on the European Commission to propose a strong EU directive that deters SLAPPers”, said Julie Majerczak, Reporters Without Borders Representative to the EU.

Press contacts:

In Brussels:

Veronika Feicht +49-89-307749-24  vf@umweltinstitut.org

Eoin Dubsky +31-6-41636410 eoin@sumofus.org

Julie Majerczak, + 32 495 11 24 37, jmajerczak@rsf.org

Kamil Maczuga, +48 576 725 929, maczugakamil1@gmail.com

Okke Ornstein, +31 683872408, oornstein@gmail.com

Further press contacts:

Marianne Klute (in Hamburg) +49-40-228-510-831, marianne.klute@regenwald.org

 

Further information: