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27 January 2020

Letter to European Commission VP Věra Jourová on Anti-SLAPP legislation

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Dear Vice-President Jourová,

Brussels, 27 January 2020

We are pleased to hear that you are preparing EU legislation to deter Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs). We believe this is extremely important to safeguard freedom of expression, and advocacy and assembly rights in the EU, and would like to request a meeting with you to discuss our experiences and expectations.

It is our strong view that the legislation must cover everybody who is affected by SLAPPs.

Some of the most striking examples include journalists, such as Maltese reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia, who had 47 SLAPPs pending against her at the time of her assassination. The award-winning journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who exposed the Cambridge Analytica data-harvesting scandal, is also facing a SLAPP.

Besides journalists and the media, SLAPPs are also used to target academia, trade unionists, activists, civil society organisations and individual citizens, including human rights defenders. In essence, SLAPPs are used to silence individuals and organisations that play a watchdog role and hold those in positions of power to account.

There are many examples of unjustified legal action against these actors in the EU. These are some examples:

  • In Germany, PayPal filed a libel lawsuit against the NGO SumOfUs for a peaceful protest against the company’s business relationship with neo-Nazi group Pro Chemnitz outside its Berlin headquarters. Pro Chemnitz used PayPal to raise money to finance the group’s activities and hate speech.
  • In Portugal, eucalyptus pulp producer Celtejo, part of the Altri group, sued activist Arlindo Marquês, who accused the company of polluting the Tagus River (rio Tejo). Since 2015, Marquês had been posting video and photographic evidence of the pollution in the river on social media networks, as well as sending it to the relevant authorities.
  • In France, companies Socfin and Socapalm, both affiliated with the Bolloré Group, sued NGOs Sherpa and ReAct for defamation in 2018 for publishing land-grabbing accusations made by villagers and farmers in Cameroon.
  • In the UK, a number of fracking companies, including INEOS, UK Oil & Gas, Cuadrilla, IGas and Angus Energy, have filed a number of injunctions since 2017 to prevent protests in front of drilling sites. These have been brought against ‘persons unknown’ and therefore apply to the world at large. As a result, many of the affected citizens only become aware of the injunction after having been sued by one of the companies.
  • In Poland, energy company Chevron brought criminal and civil lawsuits against anti-fracking protesters in relation to the establishment of a protest camp at a shale gas site in 2013, using defamation and trespass laws.

At a time when there is no anti-SLAPP legislation in force in any EU member state, strong EU anti- SLAPP measures, including legislation and legal funds for victims, will help protect those most vulnerable to such legal harassment, and send a strong political message that the EU is ready to stand up for its citizens and protect fundamental rights.

Magda Stoczkiewicz
Deputy Director, Greenpeace European Unit

On behalf of the following organisations:

Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation
Corporate Europe Observatory
European Partnership for Democracy
Reporters Without Borders
International Service for Human Rights
Protection International
European Civic Forum
European Centre for Press & Media Freedom
Friends of the Earth Europe
Environmental Partnership Association
NGO Shipbreaking Platform
European Humanist Federation
Front Line Defenders
Allianz Rechtssicherheit fur politische Willensbildung
Young European Federalists
Umweltinstitut Munchen e.V.
Scottish PEN
OGM dangers
ePanstwo Foundation
Justice Pesticides

Supported by:

Civil Society Europe