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JUN 2014
THE ASIAN AGE

Activists, scribes get online help to fight strategic suits

"There is very little journalism on SLAPP in India and it is difficult to get information on cases through mainstream media due to self-censorship. Added to that many people understandably acquiesce when they receive legal notices so information on those cases does not see the light of day. When activists are imprisoned on false charges, they are mostly people who are powerless without even the means to get their voice heard."

Shireen Irani

Executive Director, i-Probono

After research of nearly two years about rising incidents of ‘Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation’ (SLAPP), iProbono, a non-profit online network has started a project to build a network of lawyers who are interested in fighting SLAPP for activists, NGOs and journalists as well as lobbying for changes in laws.

According to Shireen Irani, executive director of iProbono they were approached by the General Counsel of Greenpeace back in 2012 and they spoke about the rising incidence of SLAPP in India. “We began researching into the area to collate empirical evidence and understand the scale of the issue but early on we had problems gathering data” she said.

Explaining the difficulties faced in getting case studies she further added, “There is very little journalism on SLAPP in India and it is difficult to get information on cases through mainstream media due to self-censorship. Added to that many people understandably acquiesce when they receive legal notices so information on those cases does not see the light of day. When activists are imprisoned on false charges, they are mostly people who are powerless without even the means to get their voice heard.”

Though iProbono was working on this issue for the past two years, the initiative was conceived out of a February forum at which more than 20 lawyers, civil society members, publishers and journalists convened in Delhi to disucss SLAPP and restrictions on freedom of speech faced in India. After the February meeting the actual work began in May only.

According to iProbono members, SLAPP aims to make it impossible for a person to continue their work by draining them of time and resources as they defend multiple legal disputes, or by pressuring them into keeping quiet.

Swati Sukumar, director (India) from the network has said that so far two activists have approached them and cases against them are posted for hearing in mid-June and they do not wish to reveal their identity so details about them cannot be given at this stage. In the meantime 24 lawyers also joined the network, which already had 40-50 on iProbono.

Ms Irani said, “Of course plaintiffs will never state that they are commencing a ‘SLAPP’ action, but when all the indicators point to a situation where powerful vested interests are looking to quash citizen action, then it can be identified. And real change can only happen when there are strong penalties imposed on SLAPP offenders.”

This article is taken from Asian Age