Ending Gag Lawsuits in Europe Protecting Democracy and Fundamental Rights
Romania: abusive legal action by former bishop against journalists and outlets in Romania

Press-ECPMF

23 April 2021

No Comments

Civil society coalition concerned about abusive legal action by former bishop against journalists and outlets in Romania

The undersigned civil society organisations are concerned about the legal action taken by a former bishop of the Romanian Orthodox Church against The Centre for Investigative Media (CIM), Dela0.ro and three journalists, in relation to their reporting on alleged sexual abuse. We consider the proceedings have many of the characteristics of a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) and hope the courts will deal with them swiftly with due respect for European human rights law and standards.

On 2 March 2021, the former bishop filed a tort liability claim and two requests for interim injunctions against media outlets CIM and Dela0.ro, and journalists Ovidiu Vanghele (of CIM) and Vlad Stoicescu and Diana Oncioiu (of Dela0.ro) over a series of articles published on safielumina.ro, a joint project between the outlets. In the articles, the journalists wrote that a number of pupils at an Orthodox Christian high school were sexually abused, involving the then-bishop. The reporting led to a re-opening of criminal investigations against the former bishop. He is currently on trial for the rape of one of his students, who filed a criminal complaint against him. The tort claim, on the basis of Article 1349 of the Romanian Civil Code, is targeting the three journalists. Its object has yet to be communicated to the defendants. The requests for interim injunctions were filed against CIM and one private unrelated company owned by one of the journalists. The former bishop asked for the removal of 13 news stories from all platforms where they were published.

We consider this legal action has many of the hallmarks of a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). SLAPPs are abusive lawsuits filed by powerful individuals and companies as a means of silencing critical expression. They can take many forms and typically involve long and costly legal procedures or the threat thereof to intimidate and harass journalists, activists and watchdogs into silence. 

This legal action by the former bishop is part of a worrying trend across Europe, in which the powerful, wealthy and thin-skinned use SLAPPs to bully and intimidate public watchdogs to avoid scrutiny and escape accountability. A broad coalition of civil society organisations is calling for new law and standards at the European level to address the problem and enhance protection for critical speech. The European Union, based on its competences in the area of civil procedure, should introduce an Anti-SLAPP Directive with minimum rules to guarantee strong and uniform protection of individuals and organisations. In addition, there is a need for the Council of Europe to adopt a Recommendation, which would cover a broader geographical area and can provide detailed guidance to states as to what human rights standards require from any domestic or regional anti-SLAPP law.

We will continue to closely monitor the proceedings against CIM, Dela0.ro, Vanghele, Oncioiu and Stoicescu.

Signed by:

ActiveWatch

ARTICLE 19 

Blueprint for Free Speech

Center for Independent Journalism

Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties)

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

Greenpeace European Unit

Index on Censorship

IFEX

International Press Institute (IPI)

OBC Transeuropa

Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP)

South East European Network for Profession­alization of Media (SEENPM)

The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation

Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement is coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), an Europe-wide mechanism, which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries. This project provides legal and practical support, public advocacy and information to protect journalists and media workers. The MFRR is organised by an consortium led by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) with ARTICLE 19, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Free Press Unlimited (FPU), the Institute for Applied Informatics at the University of Leipzig (InfAI), International Press Institute (IPI) and CCI/Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT). The project is co-funded by the European Commission. www.mfrr.eu

Read news by categories:

Related news

Statement

Fidesz Media Council moves to silence independent station Tilos Rádió

The partners of the MFRR express serious concern over the decision by the Fidesz-controlled Media Council to block the frequency license renewal of Tilos Rádió.

READ MORE
Statement

Czech Republic: Independence of public broadcasters must be insulated against future attacks

Partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) have published a statement urging the Czech Government to come good on its promises to strengthen the independence of public broadcasters and to seize the opportunity to put press freedom at the centre of its EU presidency programme.

READ MORE
Statement

Open Letter: Safeguarding peace and democracy in Europe through a strong European Media Freedom Act

To mark Europe Day 2022, ECPMF joined an open letter to European Commissioners Vera Jourová, Thierry Breton and Margrethe Vestager to call on the Commission to take an ambitious approach to the European Media Freedom Act.

READ MORE
Statement

Albania: Private data breaches and intimidation of journalists must be investigated

The MFRR, together with Safe Journalists Network and RSF, have written to Mr. Besnik Dervishi, Commissioner for the Right to Access to Information and Personal Data Protection of Albania, calling for a thorough investigation into a recent private data breach and intimidation of journalists in Albania.

READ MORE
Statement

Estonia: Criminal fines for journalists over public interest reporting send dangerous signal

The MFRR partners are concerned about the imposition of fines on two journalists and a news outlet in Estonia after they published information about pre-trial criminal proceedings without seeking permission or informing the prosecutor’s office.

READ MORE
Statement

CASE welcomes the EC’s Anti-SLAPP Initiative as a landmark step in the right direction

The Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE) welcomes the European Commission’s anti-SLAPP initiative unveiled today which includes key remedies and safeguards needed in any effective anti-SLAPP legislation.

READ MORE