Logo SLAPP, Swiss Alliance against Strategic lawsuits against public participation. A woman and a man with their mouths taped shut.

Swiss Alliance against SLAPP founded

In Switzerland, too, intimidation suits and threats of legal action against non-governmental organizations are on the rise. Such so-called SLAPPs are intended to prevent unwelcome reports and intimidate civil society. An alliance wants to inform the Swiss public about SLAPP practices, and advocate for better legislation to stop such early. 

Democracies around the world are under pressure. Autocratic heads of state enact restrictive laws that serve only to maintain their own power and take rigorous action against critics. Communities that defend themselves against harmful environmental pollution, stand up for fair working conditions or publicize grievances are threatened and experience violence. People who peacefully demand more freedom and social change are imprisoned. The list of repressions that young people in our project countries also suffer is long, and the means are diverse.  

Lawsuits as leverage against NGOs 

An increasingly popular means of silencing civil society are intimidation lawsuits, SLAPPs (Strategic lawsuits against public participation). Media professionals have been familiar with them for a long time, but now these strategic lawsuits against civil society participation are also being used more and more against non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Also in Switzerland, where they are practiced by corporations or very wealthy individuals such as oligarchs. Lawsuits or threats of lawsuits were intended to prevent NGOs from exposing abuses and publishing critical reports. terre des hommes switzerland has also received disturbing mail. When we made it public that the Zug-based Company EuroChem 2021 Exported phosphate from occupied Western Sahara to Estonia in a company-owned plant, we were asked, the article to withdraw. The company has since gained notoriety as its then owner, Andrey Melnichenko, is one of the Russian nationals sanctioned in the EU and Switzerland in the wake of the Ukraine war.  

Also increasingly common in Switzerland 

A HEKS survey in 2022 among various NGOs showed that lawsuits and threats of lawsuits have also increased massively in Switzerland in recent years. While only two threats of lawsuits were registered between 2000 and 2010, the NGOs surveyed have been confronted with 17 threats of lawsuits since 2010. Since 2018, around a dozen lawsuits have also been filed 

The corporations have endless financial resources, hire expensive lawyers and PR offices, and can afford lawsuits that drag on for years. For NGOs, such lawsuits - or even the threat of lawsuits - mean a great deal of effort, even if the published facts are true. Extensive statements of claim have to be answered, followed by even longer replies, which also have to be responded to. 

Danger of self-censorship 

Threats of lawsuits or the knowledge that SLAPPs are increasingly to be expected can have a self-censoring "chilling effect" on organizations in advance of publications. Statements may be toned down to provide less surface for attack, or publications may be delayed to a time when they have lost relevance. Corporations and wealthy individuals use SLAPPS to systematically try to suppress whistleblowing and critical reporting. This has consequences not only for the organizations concerned in Switzerland, but also for their partners in the global South. Environmental and human rights violations are no longer made public and they themselves are in danger as sources of information, especially in countries with little legal security. Last but not least, it is also in the interest of the Swiss public and those of the countries concerned that abuses are made public. 

Broad alliance of civil society 

Swiss NGOs are now responding to the increase in SLAPPs by founding the Swiss Alliance against SLAPPs. Numerous Swiss civil society organizations want to work together to prevent a further increase in SLAPP, including Public Eye, the Bruno Manser Fund, HEKS, Helvetas, Greenpeace Switzerland, MultiWatch, the Society for Threatened Peoples, terre des hommes schweiz, Solidar Suisse, SWISSAID and TRIAL International. Imprint, the professional association of Swiss media professionals, is also a member of the alliance. 

In the alliance, experiences are exchanged, internal training is provided, members support each other in cases, raise awareness of the SLAPP issue and campaign for better legislation. For example, it should become easier and more common in the future to fend off intimidation suits at an early stage.  

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