Case: Protection of activists of Tatarbunary regional NGO “Vidrodzhennia”
Region: Ukraine, Odessa oblast
Parties: Tatarbunary regional NGO “Vidrodzhennia”, local businessman
Essence of the case: compensation of moral damage done to the reputation of local businessman after spreading information about his actions on the territory of the National Park «Tuzlovski Lymany»
Essence of the problem: It’s a SLAPP litigation, namely a strategic law suit against public participation. As a rule, they are brought by big corporations to civil or commercial courts for compensation of damage against members of the public criticizing their actions. Defamation suits compose the bigger part of SLAPP suits. These are the suits against activists, journalists, NGOs and mass media that are accused of damaging reputation as a result of releasing public information.
In spring 2016, a local businessman, who was connected to illegal activities on the territory of the National Park «Tuzlovski Lymany» and violation of environmental legislation filed a defamation suit to court against NGO “Vidrodzhennia”. The plaintiff asked the court to declare that the information distributed in information newsletter “Oukymena” published by NGO “Vidrodzhennia”» to be false, namely:
«.. The plaintiff (one of several candidates running for the parliament and registered in our district) has relations to this construction as well as to the construction of recreational facility–mooring of small vessels (it is mentioned in falsified documents) and cutoff (connecting channel). The investor (as he calls himself) spends lots of money to turn the natural sand beach into his own residence, where thousands of cubic meters of sand have been transformed into concrete». «There have been many other abuses because such a situation is beneficial to the Park director who blocked the development of park management plan. It’s worth noting that the Park director was representing the interests of the plaintiff when he was running for the parliament during the last parliamentary elections. In fact, it was a weird situation when the director of a nature protection institution was representing a wrongdoer».
The plaintiff asked the court to delete from the Internet the video of his participation in construction of the buildings on the sand beach and to compensate him 10 000 UAH of moral damages.
NGO “Vidrodzhennia” performs its statutory tasks and operates legally, its main goal is to protect environmental rights of citizens by informing the population on the issues of environmental safety, violation of their right to safe and healthy environment and fair access to natural resources.
The court of the first instance ruled in favor of the plaintiff. The court said that the fact of distribution of information is uncontested while the defendant failed to prove that the plaintiff was a public person for whom the limits of permissible criticism are much broader. The court found that information distributed is a statement based on assumptions, and this information is offensive, points to illegal behavior of the plaintiff and thus is a negative statement rather than a judgement. The court also said that the facts mentioned are not grounded, harming reputation of the plaintiff, and thus there is the obligation to refute this information and compensate for moral damages in the amount defined by the plaintiff.
The court ruling was appealed by the defendant to the appellate court. The appellate court adopted a new decision to dismiss the claims against NGO “Vidrodzhennia”.
EPL provided consultations to the defendant in the litigation process.
http://reyestr.court.gov.ua/Review/58396764 decision of the court of the first instance
http://reyestr.court.gov.ua/Review/62995464 decision of the court of the second instance