[…] Attacks on journalists around the world take many forms, some of which are sanctioned in law. Legal or quasi-legal mechanisms include the use of civil or criminal legal actions, covert surveillance, overt censorship and financial threats (such as withdrawing state advertising), as well as more direct intimidation and threats.
In recent years, another way of silencing journalists has proliferated: the use of what are known as strategic lawsuits against public participation, or Slapps, where defamation or criminal lawsuits are brought with the intention of shutting down forms of expression such as peaceful protest or writing blogs. Originally regarded as an American legal mechanism, such lawsuits are now fairly widespread in Europe. Before she was killed in 2017, the Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was facing around 40 libel lawsuits filed by companies, government officials and individuals, which were described by her son Matthew as a “never-ending type of torture”.
Věra Jourová, the vice-president of the European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, has been working on introducing protections against Slapp lawsuits, the defence of which can cost individuals a fortune and tie up their time and resources. Justin Borg-Barthet, a legal academic at Aberdeen University, has called for EU law to be changed to prevent “forum shopping” to countries with claimant-friendly laws, so that defamation suits would have to be filed in the courts of the country where the media organisation or journalist was based. Slapp lawsuits are commonly used against journalists investigating government corruption or exposing corporate abuses, but are also used against civil society organisations, activists such as environmental campaigners, trade unionists and academics, to shut down or silence acts of criticism and protest.
In France, media organisations and NGOs have been hit with what they view as Slapp suits for publishing accusations of land-grabbing from villagers and farmers in Cameroon by companies associated with the Bolloré Group. In the UK, fracking companies including Ineos, UK Oil & Gas, Cuadrilla, IGas and Angus Energy have since 2017 sought and been granted wide-ranging court injunctions, often directed against persons unknown, to prevent protests and campaigning activities at drilling sites. These injunctions had a chilling effect on the right to protest and free speech, until the court of appeal ruled in April 2019 that parts of an Ineos injunction prohibiting protests on the public highway and against the Ineos supply chain, and which had been used as a template for similar orders granted to other oil and gas companies, were unlawful. […]