Henley and Partners in fresh legal threats against Swiss journalists

Despite ‘distancing’ itself from SLAPP practices, two Swiss newspapers remove critical articles following legal threats   

Henley and Partners has threatened to sue two Swiss media outlets, namely , over what they claim where allegations that the company was involved in journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination.

The company which sells passports, including Maltese and EU citizenship, claimed that the articles linked the murder to Henley and Partners and that they couldn’t accept it since their reputation is important for their business.

Both Swiss media outlets removed the articles in question after receiving the legal threats. But Henley and Partner’s allegations are very similar to the one levelled at The Shift when it threatened to take legal action in the UK and the US.

This practice, commonly known as SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) aims to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.

The company demanded that The Shift remove an article from its site that revealed the company’s purported involvement in a Grenada diplomatic passport scandal. However, The Shift was the first media organisation in Malta that has stood its ground against such a potential lawsuit, by refusing to remove the article in question.

In its reply to Henley and Partners, The Shift said “the assertions you make insofar as concerns the connection between the activities of your company and the murder of Ms Caruana Galizia arise out of your own perceptions and concerns and not out of any comment or reporting contained in the article.”

Quizzingly Henley and Partners has distanced itself from such practices. In reply to questions posed by another Swiss newspaper, WOZ Die Wochenzeitung (see translated version here), Henley and Partners said “We clearly distance ourselves from the practice of SLAPP… Our actions should in no way jeopardise investigative journalism or the freedom of the press, but only edit proven false statements to protect our reputation.”

The company also said that “Like other consultancies we also live on our good reputation and the quality of our services and cannot allow ourselves to be discriminated against by unjustified accusations. ”

Following these threats a group of MEPs from various political families called on the European Commission to take note of the recent report made by Mapping Media Freedom with regard to SLAPP practices against The Shift. The MEPs called for the introduction of measures against abusive legal actions that silence critical journalists.

Moreover, the Maltese parliament will be in the coming months discussing a proposal tabled by the Opposition which aims to protect journalists from crippling international lawsuits

The International Press Institute (IPI) has also weighed in on the matter, reiterating its call for the reform of both criminal and civil defamation laws in Europe.

In an article on the latest threats to The Shift News, IPI called for the abolition of all criminal defamation laws and replacing them with civil legislation that respects international standards on freedom of expression and that provide safeguards against disproportionate and abusive claims such as SLAPPs.

“In addition, IPI supports changes to ensure that jurisdiction in libel cases should be restricted to countries where the connection between the case, parties and the state is a genuine and relevant one, to avoid libel tourism.”

IPI’s monitoring work has shown that defamation laws, including in Europe, continue to be misused to silence legitimate journalistic coverage and criticism of powerful political and economic actors.

2016 study conducted by IPI for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) revealed the widespread existence and, in some cases, application of criminal libel laws in the OSCE region.

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