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Free expression organisations unite in call for EU rules against "vexatious" lawsuits that suppress public debate

To: Ms Pia Lindholm,
Deputy Head
Unit for Civil Justice
Directorate-General Justice and Consumers
of the European Commission


OPEN LETTER SENT ON MAy 20 2020:-

Dear Ms Pia Lindholm,
The undersigned NGOs welcome the Commission’s commitment to address
the threat of vexatious litigation against journalists, activists and others. The
weaponization of the law by powerful economic actors has for too long resulted
in the suppression of scrutiny and the consequent weakening of the rule of
law in the European Union.
The incidence of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) is
notable throughout the European Union. Shocking as the extent of
documented suppression of public interest activity may be, we are acutely
aware that we are only able to document the tip of the iceberg. Inequality of
arms facilitates coercive activity which results in the removal of recorded
scrutiny, and has a chilling effect on public interest activity going forward.
The present state of affairs is caused by the existence of criminal defamation
law, abuse of civil lawsuits for libel or protection of one’s reputation, and by
deficiencies in existing EU private international law, as well as the absence of
harmonising measures which would ensure that fundamental rights are
upheld in the Member States. We therefore propose a number of short to
medium term measures with a view to creating an enabling environment for
a vibrant democracy in the European Union.
Specifically, in order to (i) protect the rights of citizens, journalists, activists,
academics, trade unionists, media organisations and NGOs, as well as (ii)
their ability and obligation to supplement and enable enforcement of the law
of the European Union, we are of the view that the following matters require
urgent attention:
- In the first instance, and as a matter of urgency, the Brussels I
Regulation (recast) requires amendment with a view to grounding
jurisdiction in the domicile of the defendant in matters relating to
defamation. This would remove the facility for pursuers to abuse their
ability to choose a court or courts which have little connection to the
dispute;
- The omission of defamation from the scope of the Rome II Regulation
requires journalists to apply the lowest standard of press freedom
available in the laws which might be applied to a potential dispute.
We recommend the inclusion of a new rule which would require the
application of the law of the place to which a publication is directed;
- Furthermore, a Directive should be adopted to introduce procedural
safeguards with a view to limiting the availability of SLAPPs against
journalists, activists and citizens. The absence of such measures
constitutes a significant threat to the integrity of the internal market,
as well as the proper functioning of the Union’s institutional order.
Examples of good practice in the European Union and elsewhere
should be considered in order to establish minimum standards
throughout the Union.
- Finally, budgetary measures to morally and financially support all
SLAPPs victims should be part of the available help.
The rationale and legal basis for the adoption of these measures is explained
more fully in advice which Article 19, Committee to Protect Journalists
(CPJ), European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), Reporters
Without Borders (RSF), and PEN International commissioned from the
Centre for Private International Law at the University of Aberdeen. We
attach this advice for ease of reference.
We look forward to your response.
Yours truly,


Article 19
Articolo 21
Association of European Journalists (AEJ)
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Danish PEN
Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation
English PEN
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
German PEN
Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD)
Greenpeace EU Unit
IFEX
Index on Censorship
International Press Institute (IPI)
Legal Human Academy
Norwegian PEN
Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
PEN International
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Scottish PEN
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
Swedish PEN
Transparency International EU