Defining Moments of 2019: Defending a SLAPP suit, and launching a campaign against corporate bullying
12 December 2019 at 9:00 am
Two and a half years ago, Australian mining company Mineral Resources Commodities Ltd (MRC) and its subsidiaries sued a number of environmental activists, lawyers (including two former CER attorneys), a journalist and a newspaper for defamation in the amount of R9,25 million. These defamation suits rely on comments made by individuals critical of MRC and its South African subsidiaries – including statements made during a lecture at the University of Cape Town’s 2017 Summer School about an MRC subsidiary’s Tormin operations on the West Coast.
The defence of the defamation lawsuit against two former CER attorneys and a West Coast activist continued during 2019. In May, the Western Cape High Court disallowed the two former CER attorneys and a West Coast activist access to documents they argued they needed for their defence in the SLAPP suit against them. The defendants have since filed a special plea highlighting the vexatious nature of the proceedings, to which the mining company has filed an exception. Both the Centre for Applied Legal Studies and the University of Cape Town have applied to be admitted as amici in the trial.
“SLAPP” suits – Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation – are aimed at silencing criticism and suppressing public activism. SLAPPs, which often take the form of defamation suits, undermine Constitutional rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the media, and academic freedom. SLAPPs have become a trend around the world, including in South Africa, and particularly in relation to environmental activists.
In May 2019, together with various partners, we launched a new anti-SLAPP campaign called Asina Loyiko: United Against Corporate Bullying. Meaning “we do not fear”, Asina Loyiko aims to raise awareness about SLAPP suits, and resisting the threat that SLAPP suits and other forms of corporate bullying pose to civil society’s Constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of the media, academic freedom, and democracy more broadly.
Supporters of the Asina Loyiko campaign include Right2Know, Open Secrets, Global Environmental Trust, Oxfam South Africa, Sustaining the Wild Coast, Amadiba Crisis Committee, Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI), the Public Service Accountability Monitor, Natural Justice , CorruptionWatch and groundWork. Organisations who wish to register their support can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow the campaign on twitter @ALoyiko
- Mining company threatens to ‘Slapp’ green activists over Facebook posts, by Daily Maverick, April 2019
- Protests grow over defamation suits against environmentalists, by Moneyweb, April 2019
- Freedom of expression under threat, new campaign warns, by GroundUp, May 2019
- Court blow for activists being sued by mining company, by GroundUp, May 2019
- Environmentalists winning battle in lawsuits, by Saturday Star, June 2019
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