The urgent need to introduce anti-SLAPP measures, proposed by the UK government in July, has been underscored by the recent announcement that a UK registered company and a Kazakhstan endowment fund have issued legal proceedings against a number of UK media outlets.
In January and February 2022, openDemocracy and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), amongst other outlets, published separate reports on the Nazarbayev Fund and Jusan Technologies Ltd. The Nazarbayev Fund is a Kazakhstan university and schools endowment fund, associated with the former president, Nursultan Nazarbayev and Jusan Technologies Ltd is a UK registered company that controlled over $7.8bn in gross asset value. This included an online marketplace, a mobile phone operator, financial services and shopping centres. According to the reports, the Nazarbayev Fund owned a controlling stake in the company via an intermediary until late 2021, raising questions as to why a UK company held some of Kazakhstan’s wealth.
As a result of their public interest reporting, TBIJ and openDemocracy are among the media outlets who have been threatened with legal action by lawyers instructed by both the Nazarbayev Fund and Jusan Technologies Ltd. There should be no question that investigating and reporting on the financial interests of authoritarian leaders, both during their time in office and afterwards, and entities connected with them, is clearly in the public interest. For this to be met with threats of costly and time-consuming legal action constitutes a significant and severe threat to media freedom and the public’s right to know.
The undersigned organisations call for the legal action against openDemocracy and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism to be dropped and stand in solidarity with all outlets facing SLAPPs for their reporting. We also reiterate our calls to the UK Government to be both bold and swift with their proposals to bring forward anti-SLAPP legislation to ensure all public interest reporting is robustly protected against abusive lawsuits.