Wed, August 10, 2022


When freedom of speech is SLAPPED by law enforcement

Powerful are able to silence activists and citizens through misuse of law: experts

Academics and experts on law and human rights have cautioned against the increasing trend of law enforcement to attempt to deter activism, and urged law reform aimed at preventing the launch of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP).

Amid controversey surrounding the pass of a new cyber security law and prevalent lawsuits against politicians and activists, experts noted that the powerful interests usually behind launching SLAPP cases use a variety of legal strategies, including defamation lawsuits and even the Lese Majeste law.
Senior lawyer Saengchai Rattanasereewong suggested that SLAPP suites are an example of immoral application of legal rights. Everyone has a right to defend themselves, he explained, but in SLAPP cases the party that is causing social problems is the plaintiff claiming injury, and the party who is bringing the problems to people’s attention is put in the role of defendant.
“In these recent years, we have witnessed several cases of SLAPP, in which human rights activists, journalists, academics, and active citizens were sued for their actions disclosing problems and pushing for solutions to the problems caused by big companies or the authorities,” Saengchai said.

Defamation claims
“The trend is increasing and the activists, who work on political issues, also become victims of SLAPP by those using a series of laws such as the Public Assembly Act, Computer Crime Act, or the controversial Lese Majeste law.”
According to iLaw database, at least 443 lawsuits launched with intent to suppress freedom of expression, have been recorded. These cases included claims of defamation, causing panic, interfering with national stability, publicising illegal messages, defaming royal household members, or arranging public gatherings.
Saengchai noted that a SLAPP case has the distinctive feature of using any law to sue through the courts with its main purpose being to frighten activists and cause them difficulty to the point that they have to stop their action.
“A SLAPP lawsuit is a clear violation of human rights, because it forces people to stop campaigning for their rights,” he stressed.
Wichian Anprasert, lecturer at Ubon Ratchathani University, raised the example of lawsuits between local activists near a gold mine in Loei’s Wang Saphung District and Thung Kham Ltd. The suit is a clear case of SLAPP, he said, in which the company tried to stop the people’s campaign to save their local environment from gold mine pollution.
“I have gathered the information at Thung Kham gold mine and have recorded 21 cases against the local community since 2013. In total, 38 people were sued by using seven different laws and the total sum that the company asked from the people was up to Bt380 million,” Wichian said.
“Despite this, the people still carry on their fight to save the environment and their livelihoods. They suffer tremendously from the lawsuits because they have to travel to court and find evidence against the company, while also having to raise their families and make a living.”
He noted that people have to go to the court some six to 13 times for each lawsuit, and each court visit costs them money and time.
“The difficulty with proceeding through the justice system is that the main purpose of a SLAPP case is it intends to make the defendants too tired to fight, and so they agree to stop their activism on the plaintiff’s term,” he said.
NHRC commissioner Angkhana Neelaphaijit remarked that the NHRC has received several complaints related to SLAPP suits over the past 10 years. Sometimes the legal threats escalate into physical harm or even enforced disappearance.
“I’d like to urge the authorities to protect human-rights defenders from such threatening. They must not support any kind of violence against these activists, and must conduct full and transparent investigations to seek justice for them,” Angkhana emphasised.
She stressed that officers of justice system also have a responsibility to stop SLAPP cases from the beginning, by considering the indictment carefully and dropping SLAPP cases before they proceed to the court.
“It is very important to stop SLAPP cases at their beginning, because for ordinary people it is a very great deal to be sued in court – especially for the women, who also have a heavy burden to take care of the family,” she said.
Saengchai also argued that there should be reform of the Thai justice system, and the government should pass an anti-SLAPP law as an official legal tool against SLAPP cases.
“Moreover, the lawyers have to strictly adhere to the ethics of their profession and refuse to work on pursuing SLAPP cases,” he added.

Published : August 05, 2017

By : Kas Chanwanpen The Nation