A momentous legal victory for environmental activism and free speech
10 February 2021
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The Western Cape High Court will today hear a preliminary application in one of three defamation suits launched against lawyers and activists who have been critical of Australian miner Mineral Commodities Limited (MRC)’s Tormin mining operation at Lutzville on the West Coast, and its planned mining operation at Xolobeni in Pondoland on the Wild Coast.In one of the cases, Mineral Sands Resources (MSR), a subsidiary of MRC, sued two former lawyers from the Centre For Environmental Rights, Tracey Davies and Christine Reddell, and West Coast community activist, Davine Cloete, for a total of R1,25 million for alleged defamatory statements made at the University of Cape Town’s Summer School in 2017.
Today, the High Court hears an application for an order compelling MSR to disclose key documents required for the defendants’ defence. The company has argued that it is not obliged to provide these documents, which include a range of environmental permits and scientific reports.
The defendants in the lawsuit brought by MSR have raised Constitutional arguments in response to the defamation claims. The University of Cape Town and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) at the University of the Witwatersrand have intervened in the matter as amici curiae (friends of the court).
The Centre for Environmental Rights maintains that litigation of this nature is intended to censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the management and costs of a legal defence until they abandon their criticism or opposition. Popularly known as SLAPP suits (strategic litigation against public participation), this kind of litigation is also aimed at sending a message to all activists that resisting that company, and others like it, poses personal risk.
Yesterday, a group of civil society organisations launched a new campaign known as Asina Loyiko: United against corporate bullying. This campaign is aimed at raising awareness about SLAPP suits, and discouraging the use of this tool to silence and intimidate activists. Meaning “we do not fear”, Asina Loyiko is committed to resisting the threat that SLAPP suits and other forms of corporate bullying pose to civil society’s Constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of the media, academic freedom, and democracy more broadly.
A picket organised by the group of civil society organisations will take place on the steps of the Western Cape High Court, a clear sign to companies that their SLAPP suits and other intimidation will not silence those fighting for environmental and social justice.
For media queries, contact CER Corporate Accountability & Transparency Programme Head Leanne Govindsamy on 076 715 8270 or firstname.lastname@example.org.