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.

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  • Co-signatories

    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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