Il momento tanto atteso è arrivato. Dopo anni di impegno, collaborazione, advocacy, ricerca e iniziative concordate, le tante organizzazioni che hanno lavorato per chiedere un’iniziativa contro la SLAPP, Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, possono celebrare un grande risultato: oggi la vicepresidente della Commissione Europea annuncia le iniziative prese per tutelare dalle querele pretestuose attivisti, giornalisti e difensori dei diritti umani.
Da quanto trapela, si tratterà probabilmente di una direttiva accompagnata da raccomandazioni agli Stati Membri, quindi un mix di misure legislative e di misure non legislative, proprio come annunciato a dicembre dl 2020 in occasione della pubblicazione dello European Democracy Action Plan.
“Incoraggiante vedere che la Commissione fa dei passi concreti – afferma Charlie Holte, consulente legale di Greenpeace, promotore della CASE, Coalition against SLAPPs in Europe – Le SLAPP hanno un impatto su tutti quelli che mettono i potenti con le spalle al muro, sugli attivisti ambientali che sono tra i più esposti. Ed è nell’interesse di tutti, e della democrazia, che delle misure deterrenti diventino legge per l’Europa”.
Le proposte della Commissione saranno oggetto di analisi e commento in un evento previsto per domani, mercoledì 28 aprile, alle 11 a Bruxelles, al quale interverrà per OBCT Chiara Sighele: un momento di analisi e di proposta per continuare a tenere alta l’attenzione sul tema.
Paola Rosà, Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa
Offensiva Ue contro denunce bavaglio verso i giornalisti
Chi promuove azioni infondate potrà essere sanzionato
Stop all’abuso di azioni legali contro giornalisti e difensori dei diritti civili. Questo l’obiettivo delle proposte – contenute in una direttiva e una raccomandazione – presentate oggi dalla Commissione europea. In base a quanto previsto dalla direttiva, i tribunali potranno tra l’altro imporre ‘penalità dissuasive’ a chi intraprende azioni legali manifestamente strumentali, infondate e mirate solo a tacitare chi, nell’ambito della sua attività professionale, denuncia abusi, casi di corruzioni e violazioni dei diritti umani.
“Avevamo promesso di difendere meglio i giornalisti e i difensori dei diritti umani da chi cerca di imporre loro il silenzio e ora lo abbiamo fatto”, ha sottolineato Vera Jourova, vicepresidente della Commissione europea. “In una democrazia – ha aggiunto – ricchezza e potere non possono dare a nessuno il diritto di prevaricare la verità”. “L’Ue – ha poi aggiunto il commissario alla giustizia Didier Reynders – si adopererà per proteggere sempre il diritto alla libertà di espressione e informazione”.
Le proposte presentate oggi costituiscono “passi importanti per salvaguardare i giornalisti e la società civile dalle crescenti minacce di pratiche vessatorie” destinate a imporre loro il silenzio. Per tutelare le vittime di Slapp – l’acronimo scelto dall’Unione per indicare le vittime di una strategia basata su attacchi legali per tacitarle – la proposta di direttiva dà la possibilità ai giudici di dichiarare il non luogo a procedere nel caso di manifesta infondatezza della denuncia presentata e, in questo caso, di imporre ai ricorrenti il pagamento di tutte le spese.
Le vittime di Slapp avranno anche il diritto di richiedere e ottenere una piena compensazione dei danni materiali e morali subiti. Inoltre, i Paesi Ue avranno il diritto di non riconoscere le sentenze emesse da Paesi terzi contro persone domiciliate nell’Ue e condannate in base a procedimenti ritenuti infondati. Prima di diventare legge la direttiva dovrà essere approvata dal Consiglio e dal Parlamento.
Fonte: Ansa, Europa
Commission tackles abusive lawsuits against journalists and human rights defenders ‘SLAPPs’
Today, the European Commission is taking action to improve protection of journalists and human rights defenders from abusive court proceedings. Strategic lawsuits against public participation, commonly known as ‘SLAPPs’, are a particular form of harassment used primarily against journalists and human rights defenders to prevent or penalise speaking up on issues of public interest. The proposed Directive covers SLAPPs in civil matters with cross-border implications. It enables judges to swiftly dismiss manifestly unfounded lawsuits against journalists and human rights defenders. It also establishes several procedural safeguards and remedies, such as compensation for damages, and dissuasive penalties for launching abusive lawsuits. The Commission is also adopting a complementary Recommendation to encourage Member States to align their rules with the proposed EU law also for domestic cases and in all proceedings, not only civil matters. The Recommendation also calls on Member States to take a range of other measures, such as training and awareness raising, to fight against SLAPPs.
Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová said: “We promised to defend better journalists and human rights defenders against those that try to silence them. The new law does that. In a democracy, wealth and power cannot give anyone an advantage over truth. With these measures we are helping to protect those who take risks and speak up when the
Protecting #democracy and #RuleOfLaw can only be done when the watchdogs are allowed to do their work freely. When the public interest prevails over the private.
Our #antiSLAPP proposal will protect #journalists and safeguard freedom of expression and exercise of #HumanRights. pic.twitter.com/lOsEs1nMyy
— Věra Jourová (@VeraJourova) April 27, 2022
Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, said: “The active exercise of the fundamental right to freedom of expression and information is key for a healthy and thriving democracy. The EU will always protect that right. Today, we are taking important steps to safeguard journalists and civil society who are increasingly under threat from SLAPPs. SLAPPs delay or even prevent the publication of statements of public interest SLAPPs also put an unnecessary burden on courts. We are now providing instruments to keep that abusive practice in check.”
Proposal for an EU law against SLAPPs
The proposed Directive provides courts and targets of SLAPPs with the tools to fight back against manifestly unfounded or abusive court proceedings. The proposed safeguards will apply in civil matters with cross-border implications. The safeguards are expected to benefit in particular journalists and persons or organisations engaged in defending fundamental rights and a variety of other rights, such as environmental and climate rights, women’s rights, LGBTIQ rights, the rights of the people with a minority racial or ethnic background, labour rights or religious freedoms, but all persons engaged in public participation on matters of public interest are covered. The safeguards have been targeted to ensure the balance of access to justice and privacy rights with the protection of freedom of expression and information. The main elements of the proposal are:
- Early dismissal of a manifestly unfounded court proceedings – courts will be able to take an early decision to dismiss the proceedings if a case is manifestly unfounded. In such a situation, the burden of proof will be on the claimant to prove that the case is not manifestly unfounded;
- Procedural costs – it will be for the claimant to bear all the costs, including the defendant’s lawyers’ fees, if a case is dismissed as abusive;
- Compensation of damages – the target of SLAPP will have a right to claim and obtain full compensation for the material and immaterial damage;
- Dissuasive penalties – to prevent claimants from starting abusive court proceedings, the courts will be able to impose dissuasive penalties on those who bring such cases to the court.
- Protection against third-country judgements – Member States should refuse recognition of a judgment coming from a non-EU country, against a person domiciled in a Member State, if the proceedings would be found to be manifestly unfounded or abusive under the Member State’s law. The target will also be able to ask for compensation of the damages and the costs in a Member State where he or she is domiciled in.
Recommendation for Member States
The Commission Recommendation also adopted today complements the Directive and encourages Member States to ensure that:
- National legal frameworks provide the necessary safeguards, similar to those at EU level, to address domestic cases of SLAPPs. This includes ensuring the procedural safeguards of an early dismissal of manifestly unfounded court proceedings. Member States would also need to ensure that their rules applicable to defamation, which is one of the most common grounds for launching SLAPPs, do not have an unjustified impact on the freedom of expression, on the existence of an open, free and plural media environment, and on public participation.
- Training is available for legal professionals and potential SLAPP targets to improve their knowledge and skills to effectively deal with these court proceedings. The European Judicial Training Network (EJTN) will be involved to ensure coordination and that information is disseminated in all Member States;
- Awareness raising and information campaigns are organised, so that journalists and human rights defenders do recognize when they are facing a SLAPP;
- Targets of SLAPP have access to individual and independent support, such as from law firms that defend SLAPP targets pro bono;
- Aggregated data collected at national level on manifestly unfounded or abusive court proceedings against public participation is reported to the Commission on a yearly basis, starting as of 2023.
The proposed Directive will have to be negotiated and adopted by the European Parliament and the Council before it can become EU law.
The Commission Recommendation is directly applicable. Member States will need to report on implementation to the Commission 18 months after adoption of the Recommendation.
The European Democracy Action Plan, adopted in December 2020, announced a series of initiatives to support and safeguard media freedom and pluralism. In this context, the Commission presented in September 2021 its first-ever Recommendation to Member States on the safety of journalists. Another step is made today with measures to protect journalists and civil society organisations against abusive litigation. The use of SLAPPs is increasing in the EU, with targets often facing multiple lawsuits simultaneously and in multiple jurisdictions. Such court proceedings have a negative impact on the willingness and ability of journalists and human rights defenders to continue their work, and a chilling effect on freedom of expression, freedom of information and a pluralistic public debate.
The prevalence of SLAPP is a matter of serious concern in some Member States, as identified by the 2020 and 2021 Rule of Law Reports. In 2021, the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) documented 439 alerts (with 778 persons or entities related to media being attacked) in 24 EU Member States, including SLAPPs. In more than 1 out of 5 of those incidents (22.1% – 97 alerts) media actors faced legal consequences.
Together with increasing threats to their physical and online safety, legal threats and abusive litigation add to an environment where hostile activity against journalists is growing and can have a serious impact on their willingness and ability to continue their work. A tragic example of the use of SLAPP is the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who was facing more than 40 lawsuits at the time of her assassination in 2017. The aim of SLAPPs lawsuits is not to access justice but to harass, intimidate and silence defendants with the length of procedures, the financial pressure and the threat of criminal sanctions. Journalists are not the only targets; human rights defenders and civil society organisations, especially those working on human rights and the environment also face SLAPP.
As part of its efforts to protect the independence and the pluralism of the media, and as announced by President von der Leyen in her 2021 State of the Union speech, the Commission will present the Media Freedom Act. This initiative is expected to be adopted in the third quarter of this year.
For More Information
Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE)
Info: European Commission
A landmark step in the right direction: case welcomes the european commission’s anti-slapp initiative
The Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE) welcomes the European Commission’s anti-SLAPP initiative unveiled today which includes key remedies and safeguards needed in any effective anti-SLAPP legislation. The initiative, which focuses on cross-border cases, is a crucial first step forward in the fight against abusive lawsuits against public watchdogs in Europe.
Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) operate through the litigation process to silence critical speech, shut down accountability, and undermine democratic rights. A CASE report published in March 2022 found a rising cumulative trend of SLAPPs in Europe since 2015.
EU Anti-SLAPP Proposals: A Broad Scope of Measures
CASE is deeply encouraged to see that the core safeguards and recommendations we have been advocating for over the past years, and that we discussed in our most recent policy brief, are included in the European Commission’s initiative. We welcome the broad personal scope of the proposed measures, recognising that SLAPPs are aimed at restricting transparent debate on issues of public importance and can impact anybody who wants to hold power to account. We strongly support the Commission’s approach in defining SLAPPs with cross-border implications, which takes into account how attempts to limit public participation resonate and impact public interest across borders, and welcome its recommendation that states ensure that safeguards be applied to all cases beyond the scope of minimum EU standards. We also note that the proposed anti-SLAPP law includes key safeguards and remedies identified in our research and articulated in our model directive, specifically an early dismissal mechanism (along with reversal of burden of proof, stay of proceedings, accelerated proceedings), a regime of sanctions, and remedial and protective measures (e.g. compensation of costs).
We also welcome the Commission’s recommendation to member states to review those laws which, by unduly limiting or chilling freedom of expression, make judicial systems vulnerable to abuse to silence critics, particularly rules on defamation. CASE has repeatedly underscored the importance of a holistic approach in tackling SLAPPs, including awareness-raising and legal training, support mechanisms and free legal aid, a review of ethical codes regulating lawyers, data collection, and reporting. We are glad to see these components fed into the European Commission’ proposals and remain open to ongoing engagement with the Commission and member states on the implementation process.
We welcome @VeraJourova & @EU_Commission anti-#SLAPP initiative as a crucial first step forward in curbing abusive litigation against public watchdogs & are glad to see that the core safeguards CASE has been advocating for are included.
— The CASE (@CASECoalition) April 27, 2022
EU and national decision makers must genuinely engage on this initiative. Reaching a swift agreement on an ambitious EU anti-SLAPP law is the objective which must be pursued as a priority. The EU legislators – the European Parliament and the Council, with the help of the Commission – and national legislators must build on the Commission’s legislative proposal and work towards the strongest possible set of rules. Any attempts to weaken the minimum standards proposed by the Commission must be fought back.
CASE is a coalition of non-governmental organisations from across Europe united in recognition of the threat posed to public watchdogs by Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs).
La Fondazione Libera Informazione aderisce e sostiene la campagna di CASE.
— Věra Jourová (@VeraJourova) April 28, 2022
— David Casa (@DavidCasaMEP) April 27, 2022
How to tackle #SLAPPs at the EU level?
This Thursday at 11 CEST, join @CASECoalition for a Press Briefing where we will examine the long-awaited @EU_Commission anti-SLAPPs proposals and its likely impact on #CivilSociety: https://t.co/QuYlAfkVDx pic.twitter.com/5Vjk8WVzdz
— European Centre for Press & Media Freedom (@ECPMF) April 26, 2022
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