ACRI: Overzealous libel litigation silences free speech

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February 26, 2013 03:18
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“The Silencer,” a report from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel published on Monday, alleges a phenomenon in which strategic lawsuits are used against public participation (“SLAPP suits”) and activism on local and national issues.

The phenomenon has been growing steadily over the past decade in Israel, the report says.

“We are increasingly witnessing libel claims with weak or even outlandish bases, yet which are effective silencing measures against social and environmental activists who speak out on matters of public importance,” according to the author of the report, attorney Avner Pinchuk of ACRI.

“Though the court seeks in the course of the trial to maintain a balance between freedom of expression and the right to maintain one’s good name, it fails to see the big picture,” he said.

Examples of SLAPP suits given in the report include: the Coffee To-Go Company’s lawsuit against waitresses who tried to unionize, a recycling corporation threatening to sue an organization that gave it a “prize” for harming the environment and the mayor of Tiberias suing the managers of a Facebook group criticizing him.

For large companies or wealthy individuals, the cost of initiating such lawsuits is minimal, the report says.

At the same time, for “ordinary citizens who in the course of their activism use journalism and social media sites like Facebook,” grappling with legal complexities and defending themselves against lawsuits is prohibitively costly.

The report concludes by listing a number of steps that can be taken, both in the legal and the public spheres, to reduce the “chilling effect” of libel

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