Across the EU, journalists, activists, academics and their organisations are facing legal threats or fighting lawsuits designed to shut them up. These lawsuits, brought by companies or powerful individuals and designed to silence critics, are called SLAPPs – Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.
The term SLAPP has its roots in the United States but, as this report shows, the practice is also widespread in Europe.
SLAPPs often target journalists and media outlets, however, they are also used against activists and NGOs, and academics who speak out in the public interest. In Germany, for example, coal giant RWE is suing a 24-year-old climate activist for encouraging acts of civil disobedience in response to the climate crisis. In France, construction company VINCI has brought a defamation case against the NGO Sherpa which accused the company’s Qatari subsidiary of using forced labour. In Poland, state broadcaster TVP sued legal professor Wojciech Sadurski for criticism expressed on Twitter.
While the full extent of the SLAPPs is unknown, it is clear that SLAPPs are a threat to anybody acting as a ‘watchdog’ in society, exposing wrongdoing by powerful businesses and individuals. The result is a tangible limitation of the EU’s fundamental rights to freedom of expression and information, and the right to protest.
Parts of the US, Canada and Australia have introduced specific laws to protect against SLAPPs. However, no such protections exist in the EU, either in any of the member states or for the EU as a whole.
More than 100 NGOs and 32 members of the European Parliament have called for an EU anti-SLAPP directive and funds to support all victims of SLAPPs. European Commission vice-president Vera Jourová has signalled repeatedly that she would take action against SLAPPs. Given the breadth of the problem, as documented in this report, it is high time that these announcements are put into practice.