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SLOVENIA: Pre-election showdown by authorities targeting NGOs

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Ahead of the parliamentary elections scheduled on 24 April 2022, the NGO 8 March Institute (Inštitut 8. marec) has been running a Let’s go vote campaign (Gremo volit), encouraging voter turnout. In light of the upcoming elections, the NGO also prepared a draft law to overturn the anti-rights decisions of the incumbent Government, collecting signatures for the law to be submitted to the parliament (under the Law on civic initiative and referendum, any draft law can be submitted only with 5.000 citizens’ signatures). The 8 March Institute received a notice from the Inspectorate of Internal Affairs, headed by former Trbovlje police station assistant Marko Kandolf, who has close ties to Prime Minister Janez Janša’s SDS party. The Inspectorate accused the Institute of “leading an undeclared electoral campaign”, asking the NGO to prove otherwise. Kandolf wrote in his letter that he was calling on them on the basis of several anonymous reports he had received.

As reported by Dnevnik, the content of the Inspectorate’s notice is quite unusual, since it asks the Institute for evidence on “the content and programme of the election campaign” and the name of the person responsible for it. The 8 March Institute replied that they don’t run election campaigns, as they don’t disseminate political advertising content. During a press conference on 7 April, the Institute announced they’re also considering to appeal against Chief Inspector Kandolf for abuse of official position.

It is clear that the ministry has approached the matter in a completely illegal manner“, said the NGO’s lawyer Nataša Pirc Musar, pointing out that an offence authority should never ask someone who is in an offence proceeding to provide evidence. “The path must be reversed“, stated Pirc Musar, according to STA, explaining that all those who find themselves in a trial have the right to remain silent and the privilege against self-incrimination. The Inspectorate of Internal Affairs put the burden of proof on the defendant, the 8 March Institute, as the letter of notice did not state what offence the NGO was being accused of, nor cite any evidence of the allegation.

The 8 March Institute, its leader Nika Kovač, the project Gremo volit and their collection of signatures in support of the bill against the harmful measures issued by the third Janša’s government have been targets of different kind of attacks by the former ruling party coalition, and especially by SDS party. Katarina Bervar Sternad of the Legal Network for the Protection of Democracy announced that they would report the attack on the 8 March Institute as a so-called SLAPP action (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation). According to STA, the Legal Network will also report this attack to the European Commission in the framework of the reporting mechanism on the rule of law in Slovenia.