POLAND: Activist Marta Lempart wins SLAPP case

Extract of article by Joanna Urbańska-Jaworska, published in Gazeta Wyborcza on 29/12/2023 – accessible here.

Marta Lempart of Polish Women’s Strike won a SLAPP criminal case brought against her by Ordo Iuris, a fundamentalist organization.

The term ‘sadists’ is not a defamation or insult – the court in Wrocław found and acquitted Marta Lempart of the charges brought against her by Ordo Iuris. – Marta Lempart’s statement was an expression of strong opposition, concern about the views and position of the accuser on the subject of abortion,” said Judge Magdalena Koelner.
Marta Lempart was sued by the Institute for Legal Culture “Ordo Iuris” for calling the conservative Catholic institute “sadists” in an interview with Onet on 6 May 2018. She said that it was to them that “we owe the project of locking women in prison for miscarriages”. Ordo Iuris filed a private indictment against Marta Lempart. It accused her of publicly insulting and defaming the institute. The trial in the District Court for Wrocław-Krzyki, preceded by court mediation, lasted five years.

Marta Lempart, who does not back down from her words, has written about the trial several times on her social media. The last time, in mid-December, she reported that she had testified “against the Ordo Iuris sadists”.

“I spoke about suffering, fear, humiliation. About a woman who had a miscarriage and the prosecution was searching her cesspool. About a woman who was interrogated and invasively searched in hospital. About a mother prosecuted for buying an abortion pill for her 14-year-old daughter, who was raped. About doctors lying to patients and watching idly as they died. I said I couldn’t understand it – what kind of sadist do you have to be to condone such a state of things. What must one have in one’s head and in one’s heart to want, to do everything for this to continue, not to mention – to aim to make it even worse?

I was talking about it, making a manifesto about why it was important, why I was doing it, and my voice was breaking. And sitting across from me was a jubilant sadist from Ordo Iuris, a smiling Mr Nobody. Delighted because someone is suffering from the abortion ban today. Delighted because the abortion ban may kill someone tomorrow. I am exhausted by this. I’m nightmarishly tired of it, physically, mentally, emotionally. And I feel that I walk alone.” – wrote the Women’s Strike activist.

On Friday, 29 December, the court acquitted the leader of the Women’s Strike. It ordered Ordo Iuris to pay the costs of the trial. According to the court, Marta Lempart’s statement was an assessment expressing a subjective reaction to the facts, and with the term ‘sadists’ the leader of the Women’s Strike did not exceed the limits of public debate.

– Articles 212 [defamation – ed.] and 216 [insult] cannot serve to stigmatise every statement that is exaggerated or controversial, the judge explained. She emphasised that both Ordo Iuris and Marta Lempart actively participate in public life. – By undertaking such activity, inevitably, and at the same time consciously and voluntarily, institutions such as Ordo Iuris expose themselves to reactions from public opinion and must therefore show a greater degree of tolerance even towards major attacks directed against them. This is what the right to open and unfettered public debate requires. This was exercised by the accused. 

An analysis of the context of Marta Lempart’s statements and explanations led the court to conclude that her aim was to criticise, to speak out in the public debate and at the same time “to draw attention to momentous social problems and women’s rights”.

– The court’s balanced assessment preceded by a lengthy and complicated evidentiary procedure is very welcome, because in this situation the context of the statement and its purpose is important. Criminal law cannot be seen as an instrument for silencing the voice that falls in the public debate, and this is something that resonates very strongly from the justification. It also draws attention to socially important issues, i.e. women’s rights and the right to express one’s views and the right to criticise different views,‘ Karolina Szulc-Nagłowska, attorney at law, representing Marta Lempart, assessed the judgment. 

The judgment is not final. It is possible that Ordo Iuris will appeal against it.

Marta Lempart: “I would be a great suprise if they appealed.We are talking about a  case which started back in 2018 when Ordo Iuris was hiding that they were aiming for an abortion ban in Poland and were lying that they had nothing to do with the 2016 total ban on abortion attempt. Back then they were persecuting everybody who informed the public about it, saying it’s „defamation”.  In 2020 they changed their strategy and now they are publicly proud of being anti-woman sadists’ and going after pro-abortion activists – so the case just does not hold together in any way. Also – they are so into “legal culture” that they did not notice, that there is no such thing in Polish law as “insulting” a legal entity or institution (it has to be a person, and person only). Here goes their legal expertise” – they are totally incompetent, which shows in cases such as mine.”

Media contact: Marta Lempart, +48 577 099 077, marta.lempart@strajkkobiet.eu