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26.03.21
Statements

The Council of Europe must combat abusive lawsuits targeting critical expression

Joint statement - The Need for a Council of Europe Recommendation on Combatting SLAPPs

The undersigned groups, representing a range of different public watchdogs (including journalists, activists, NGOs, lawyers, trade unions, workers' representatives, scholars and whistleblowers), call on the Council of Europe (CoE) to act on the growing threat of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs).

SLAPPs are abusive lawsuits filed by powerful individuals and companies as a means of silencing critical expression (e.g. journalism, peaceful protest or whistleblowing). They typically use long and costly legal procedures, or the threat thereof, to intimidate and harass critics into silence.

A growing body of evidence - including from ECPMF, Greenpeace EU, and Index on Censorship - shows a rise in the use of SLAPPs across the continent, and highlights the devastating impact such abusive tactics can have on public watchdogs.

The EU has recognised the problem and is exploring steps to address it. At present, however, no dedicated European human rights standards exist to guide the EU in enacting anti-SLAPP measures. SLAPPs are also a major problem in many European states that are not EU members.

The CoE has already spoken out against SLAPPs in the context of issues such as defamation. However, its statements consist of brief references in existing policy documents that do not add up to a coherent set of guidelines on how national law and practice should prevent SLAPPs.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has dealt with the issue indirectly on a number of occasions. These cases point to a requirement under the European Convention on Human Rights for governments to deter SLAPPs and support those targeted, as part of States’ duty to enable free speech and create a favourable environment for participation in public debate by all.

Despite the growth in SLAPPs, no specific anti-SLAPP laws exist in Europe, and safeguards against procedural abuse are often limited. It falls to the CoE to address this gap and guide its members to ensure the full and consistent application of the principles advanced by the ECtHR.

Urgent action is needed. Given the scale and nature of the problem, we are asking the CoE to act at the earliest possible opportunity.

In particular, a self-standing recommendation should be issued with clear guidance on measures needed to discourage SLAPPs and dismiss them at an early stage, to sanction those who use SLAPPs or threaten to do so, and to provide financial and legal support to those targeted by SLAPPs. It should also give guidance on how to prevent the use of forum shopping, whereby cases are brought in jurisdictions that maximise the cost and inconvenience for the defendant.

This recommendation would be of huge importance in positively influencing laws and policies across CoE member states, as well as shaping EU anti-SLAPP legislation. The case for a CoE recommendation is set out in more detail in the attached memorandum.

SIGNED BY

  1. AJK - The Association of Journalists of Kosovo
  2. Alternatif Bilişim, Turkey (Alternative Informatics Association)
  3. Amis de la Terre France / Friends of the Earth France
  4. Apache
  5. ARA - Arbeitsgemeinschaft Regenwald und Artenschutz, Germany
  6. Arena for Journalism in Europe
  7. ARTICLE 19
  8. Articolo 21 + Articolo 21 Campania
  9. Association Justice and Environment, z.s.
  10. Association Media-Guard, Republic of Moldova
  11. Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio & Communication
  12. BankTrack
  13. Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
  14. Blueprint for Free Speech
  15. Bruno Manser Fonds, Basel, Switzerland
  16. Centre for Law and Democracy
  17. Civil Liberties Union for Europe
  18. Civil Society Europe
  19. ClientEarth
  20. COMMIT - Community Medien Institut für Weiterbildung, Forschung und Beratung
  21. Committee to Protect Journalists
  22. Community Media Forum Europe (CMFE)
  23. Czech center for investigative journalism
  24. Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation
  25. Denkhausbremen e.V., Germany
  26. Digital Rights Ireland
  27. English PEN
  28. Environmental Investigation Agency, UK
  29. Environmental Paper Network
  30. European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights
  31. European Centre for Press and Media Freedom
  32. European Environmental Bureau
  33. European Federation of Journalists
  34. European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  35. Festival “Imbavagliati”
  36. FNSI, Federazione Nazionale Stampa Italiana
  37. Forum Ökologie & Papier, Germany
  38. Forum trentino per la pace e i diritti umani
  39. Foundation Libera Informazione
  40. Free Press Unlimited
  41. Friends of the Earth Europe
  42. Friends of the Earth Netherlands / Milieudefensie
  43. Fundacja Reporterów (Poland)
  44. Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD)
  45. GRAIN
  46. Greenpeace International
  47. Guardian News and Media Limited (as publishers of the Guardian, the Observer and theguardian.com)
  48. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Warsaw, Poland
  49. Hermes Center for Transparency and Digital Human Rights
  50. Homo Digitalis
  51. Human Rights Centre, Ghent University
  52. Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)
  53. IFEX
  54. ILGA-Europe (European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans & Intersex Association)
  55. In Difesa Di
  56. Index on Censorship
  57. International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)
  58. International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  59. International Media Support (IMS)
  60. International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR)
  61. International Press Institute
  62. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  63. Investigative Journalists NGO, Armenia
  64. Iuridicum Remedium, z.s.
  65. Journalismfund.eu
  66. Justice for Journalists Foundation
  67. Kif Kif vzw
  68. KRIK
  69. Lawyers for Lawyers
  70. Legal Human Academy
  71. Liga voor mensenrechten
  72. Ligue des droits humains
  73. Mighty Earth
  74. Netherlands Helsinki Committee
  75. Network for Affirmation of NGO Sector (MANS), Montenegro
  76. Network of Concerned Historians
  77. Neuer Weg, Romania
  78. NGO Shipbreaking Platform
  79. OBC Transeuropa
  80. Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP)
  81. Ossigeno per l’Informazione (Ossigeno.info)
  82. PEN International
  83. Progress Lawyers Network
  84. Protection International
  85. Radio B138, Community Radio Station Austria
  86. Radio Helsinki 92.6 - Freies Radio Graz
  87. Rainforest Action Network
  88. Rainforest Rescue (Rettet den Regenwald e.V.), Germany
  89. ReAct - Réseau pour l'Action Transnationale, France
  90. Reporters Without Borders
  91. RISE Moldova
  92. Rory Peck Trust
  93. Salva la Selva, Spain
  94. SAR Europe
  95. Sherpa
  96. Society for Threatened Peoples
  97. Spotlight on Corruption
  98. Studio Monitor
  99. Towarzystwo Dziennikarskie (Society of Journalists) Warsaw
  100. Umweltinstitut München
  101. Verband Freier Rundfunk Österreich (Association of Austrian Community Broadcasters)
  102. Whistleblowing International Network (WIN)
  103. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  104. Xnet Spain
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