The European Parliament has approved an own-initiative report denouncing the abusive and illegitimate use of lawsuits filed by major public and private corporations and individuals to silence critical voices.
Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation or SLAPPs are lawsuits that are systematically filed by powerful public and private corporations and individuals with considerable economic clout in order to harass, intimidate and even ruin those engaged in the public scrutiny of power, i.e. journalists, human rights defenders and environmentalists, political opponents, activists, and others. SLAPPs have likewise often been used against women who have reported gender-based violence perpetrated by powerful men.
In this regard, the European Parliament today approved a report that aims to lay the foundations for future European legislation that limits these practices. Esquerra MEP Diana Riba, a shadow rapporteur for this report, said SLAPPs “are being used increasingly in Europe to silence critical voices, and they are not just a violation of the right to a free press, to free speech and information, they also put democracy itself at risk as they seek to prevent scrutiny and accountability.”
The European Union has decided to focus on this issue following several serious cases in recent years, such as the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Ms Caruana was investigating cases of corruption in the Maltese government and was facing more than 47 civil and criminal cases, both within and outside the EU, some of them even being ‘inherited’ by her children after her murder. “Despite facing very serious cases, the fact is that today no EU member state has implemented measures against this kind of harassment, as other countries like the United States and Canada have done,” lamented Ms Riba.
This report intends to influence the package of legislative and non-legislative measures in the area of freedom of the press and media that the Commission has promised to enact during the second quarter of 2022. According to the Commission, the package will include a specific legislative proposal against abusive litigation aimed at journalists and human rights defenders. For this reason, Ms Riba called on the European executive to use the report approved today as a “basis for future measures” and assured that “in the European Parliament, we will push the Commission to be as ambitious as possible in order to put an end to the harassment and gags suffered by those who scrutinize power and thus foster public debate.”