The Croatian Government sided with the position of the Council of the EU, which significantly weakens the regulation of the so-called SLAPP lawsuits or strategic lawsuits against free speech.
Zelena akcija / FoE Croatia participated in a press conference in front of the Ministry of Justice and Administration today on the occasion of the vote on the anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) directive in the European Parliament. The discussion of the members of the Parliament will be held today, and on Tuesday they will vote on the rules for protecting journalists, activists, academics, artists etc. from legal procedures that aim to silence them through unfounded and abusive legal procedures.
In addition to introducing the public to the worrisome position taken by the Government, the goal of the press conference, organised by the Croatian Journalists’ Association, was to highlight the large number of lawsuits against journalists and activists in Croatia. That is why one of the speakers was Enes Ćerimagić, FoE Croatia’s lawyer from the FoE Croatia.
He spoke about the recent first-instance verdict of the municipal court in Dubrovnik. He and his two other colleagues from FoE Croatia were convicted of defamation for criticising the golf resort project on Srđ in Dubrovnik. “Investor Razvoj golf sued us in two proceedings, criminal and civil, because we considered the initiation of a dispute against Croatia before a non-state, private court, i.e. arbitration, due to this project to be racketeering. Although neither by law nor by judicial practice is this defamation, we have been convicted”, stated Ćerimagić and added: “In addition to the fact that the proceedings lasted for years and cost us money and time, we are threatened with a large fine of over 10.000 euros. It is clear that the goal of such lawsuits is to intimidate and silence activists and others, burdening us with legal costs and defence until we give up our criticism. Many are forced to give up. However, we won’t give up defending the interests of the public, and we even managed to get involved in the arbitration process itself, as a so-called friend of the court, and contribute to the complete rejection of the investor’s compensation claim for 500 million Euros”.
The purpose of regulating SLAPP is to deter plaintiffs and shorten court proceedings to last only as long as necessary for the court to determine that it is a SLAPP. We would like to remind you that according to the results of the latest Croatian Journalists’ Association research on lawsuits for damage to reputation and honour against journalists and the media, 945 lawsuits are currently active in Croatia, and the longest court case has been going on for 33 years.
Although there are no significant obstacles in the Croatian legal system for the introduction of minimum standards that would protect SLAPP targets from pending litigation, the Government has sided with the general approach of the Council of the EU, which significantly dilutes the proposal of the European Commission and does not offer an effective framework for stopping SLAPPs because it:
- significantly weakens the early dismissal mechanism by proposing a restrictive definition of “manifestly unfounded cases” and excluding the possibility of appealing to decisions rejecting the early dismissal of the claim
- terminates the damages provision for targets of SLAPP lawsuits
- excludes civil claims initiated in criminal proceedings from the area application of the directive
- intends to limit the scope of the directive to narrowly defined “cross-border” cases, i.e. cases in which criminal prosecution takes place in another EU member state.