A momentous legal victory for environmental activism and free speech
February 10, 2021
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The collaborative Asina Loyiko: United Against Corporate Bullying* campaign, launched in 2019, is a movement of lawyers, activists and civil society organisations who have come together to fight and resist corporate bullying. The campaign brings together a broad range of diverse civil society actors concerned about the use of the law for corporate bullying, and empowering and supporting activists to resist intimidation and to continue to challenge corporations who violate human rights, social and environmental justice.
Since its launch, the Asina Loyiko campaign has connected local and international actors who are defending legal action and threats, and those developing anti-SLAPP* strategies. Over time, it become evident that a local resource hub would be crucial to the success and amplification of the objectives of the campaign.
To launch the new website, the Asina Loyiko campaign held a webinar on 20 October 2020 with local and international experts on SLAPP, activism and protest. Speakers included: Nikhil Dutta from International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL); Charlie Holt from Greenpeace International; Lady Nancy Zuluaga Jaramillo from the Business and Human Rights Centre; Thami Nkosi from Right2Know; Thandiwe Matthews from the South African Human Rights Commission; and Stanley Malematja from Right to Protest. Local hero Nonhle Mbuthuma, a human rights defender and cofounder of Amadiba Crisis Committee, was the keynote speaker.
Right2Know’s Thami Nkosi told the webinar: “What we are seeing in South Africa is a trend of SLAPP suits – a use of lawfare to stop activists from demanding accountability. We are seeing institutions interdicting workers and attacking individuals who are defending communities.” In his address, Stanley Malematja, an attorney with Right2Protest (a coalition of organisations that aim to advance and support the realisation of the constitutional right to protest) said: “The right to protest is one of the most endangered human rights. We often see the use of common law to suppress and intimidate activists who protest.”
“SLAPP suits are one end of the spectrum of intimidation and bullying of activists,” says Khaliel Moses, Asina Loyiko campaign coordinator. “In South Africa and worldwide, a growing number of environmental rights defenders are facing intimidation, silencing and violence for standing up and protecting their communities and homes from environmental destruction.” According to a report by international NGO Global Witness, worldwide 212 people were murdered in 2019 for defending their homes, communities and environments from the destructive activities of big polluters. This year in South Africa alone, water rights activist Ayanda Kota has faced death threats forcing him into hiding and an ANC councillor, Phillip Mkhwanazi, who has been opposed to the expansion of forestry operations in Isimangaliso Wetland Park in KwaZulu-Natal, was murdered. It was these types of events that motivated the launch of a South African Human Rights Defenders Fund in 2019 to support advocates working on land, housing, and environmental rights, with a special emphasis on aiding women advocates who face threats and violence.
“SLAPP suits and other forms of corporate bullying are not just a concern for activists and civil society, but has much broader implications for the public and the media’s ability to freely express themselves and ensure the protection of human rights. SLAPP suits are a direct attack on the hard fought Constitutional rights and values which underpin a free and democratic society,” says Leanne Govindsamy, head of the Centre for Environmental Rights’ Corporate Accountability & Transparency programme.
Remembering the late activist Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Radebe, assassinated in 2016, Amadiba Crisis Committee’s Nonhle Mbuthuma said: “This is is how they divide us. This is how they kill us… Some activists take money and disappear. But Bazooka Rhadebe refused to accept money. We are not intimidated. We cannot be bullied. We cannot be voiceless.”
NOTES TO EDITOR
*Asina Loyiko: United Against Corporate Bullying. This campaign raises awareness about SLAPP suits, and discourages 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.
** SLAPP – Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation – are litigation (or threats of litigation) in the form of defamation suits, have a chilling effect on the rights and ability of people to participate in public debate and political protest. SLAPP suits are increasingly used by corporations in South Africa and in other parts of the world, to silence criticism and suppress public activism. These SLAPPs undermine Constitutional rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the media, and academic freedom. Example of SLAPP: Australian mining company Mineral Resources Commodities Ltd (MRC), listed on the Australian Securities Exchange, has sued environmental activists and lawyers (including two former CER attorneys) for defamation in the amount of R14,25 million. These defamation suits are based on comments made by individuals critical of MRC and its South African subsidiaries – including statements made during a lecture at the University of Cape Town Summer School in 2017. MRC is known for its controversial plans to mine titanium at Xolobeni on the Wild Coast, despite longstanding resistance by local people represented by the Amadiba Crisis Committee. The conflict there, and the shocking 2016 assassination of Bazooka Rhadebe – for which no suspect has yet been arrested, have been the subject of intense media coverage and debate, both here and internationally.
Khaliel Moses, Asina Loyiko Campaign Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lerato Letebele Balendran, Head of Communications, email@example.com