Twenty-seven international organisations have written to European Commissioner Vice President Věra Jourová calling on her to include everyone who has been impacted by SLAPP lawsuits in the European Union’s proposed new rules.
The organisations include The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, Reporters Without Borders, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Europe.
In the letter, penned by the Greenpeace European Unit Deputy Director Magda Stoczkiewicz, on behalf of the 27 organisations, the groups conveyed their “strong” view that EU legislation must cover everybody who is affected by the Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP).
Jourová is preparing legislation which will work to deter such lawsuits. “In essence, SLAPPs are used to silence individuals and organisations that play a watchdog role and hold those in positions of power to account,” they wrote.
Naming journalists within the European Union affected by SLAPP, the groups called the lawsuits received by assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia one of “the most striking examples which include journalists”.
“Maltese reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia had 47 law suits pending against her at the time of her assassination,” they said.
The Shift works with international organisations to fight the threats against journalists, having also faced threats of SLAPP suits twice – one by a Russian banker and another by Henley & Partners, Malta’s concessionaire for the cash for passports scheme. The same firm also targeted Caruana Galizia prior to her assassination. In both cases, The Shift did not back down.
Journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who exposed the Cambridge Analytica data-harvesting scandal, is also facing SLAPP action, the organisations noted. British co-founder of the Leave.EU campaign Arron Banks is refusing to drop the final two SLAPP lawsuits against the journalist who now started a crowdfunding campaign to cover the massive legal costs.
The organisations said that SLAPP lawsuits are not limited to journalists, but are also targeted at academia, trade unionists, activists, civil society organisations and individual citizens, including human rights defenders.
Strong EU anti-SLAPP measures, including legislation and legal funds for victims, at a time when there is no such legislation in force in any EU member state will help protect those who are vulnerable to this type of legal harassment, they said.
Such measures would also “send a strong political message that the EU is ready to stand up for its citizens and protect fundamental rights,” they continued.
Examples of “unjustified legal action against actors in the EU” mentioned in the letter include a case in France where tech company Apple lost a case against Attac (Association for Taxation of Financial Transactions and Citizen Action) for its peaceful sit-in at an Apple store in Paris in December 2017 and for their role in organising several demonstrations in France against the company’s tax evasion.
Another example was in Portugal, where a eucalyptus pulp producer, Celtejo, part of the Altri group, sued activist Arlindo Marquês after he accused the company of polluting the Tagus River.
In the letter, the organisations also requested a meeting with Jourová to discuss their experiences as well as their expectations. “We believe this is extremely important to safeguard freedom of expression, and advocacy and assembly rights in the EU,” they said.
The Maltese government has refused to ban the use of SLAPP suits in Malta, rejecting a motion by the Opposition in parliament.