Power needs to have a thick skin and not use SLAPPs

After hearing the case brought by the Opole Voivodeship against Alina Czyżewska for the protection of personal rights, the court dismissed the claim. By criticising and condemning the actions of the authorities of the Opole Voivodeship, Czyżewska did not violate the personal rights of the inhabitants and residents, as alleged by the board of the Opole Voivodeship headed by Marshal Andrzej Buła.

Czyżewska informed on the plagiarism in contest for executive position of one of the cultural institutions in Opole. She proved that large parts of the concept of Monika Ożóg, who won the competition for the director of the Opole Silesia Museum, where directly copied from the concept of Jarosław Suchan, the director of the Art Museum in Łódź. When Czyżewska informed on plagiarism, the regional authorities responsible for the contest, publicly defended Monika Ożóg. The announcement to the prosecutor’s office was made by the Marshal only after Czyżewska had done and publicly announced it – but he did not inform the public about it and, on the contrary, continued to publicly defend the director’s conduct.

As Czyżewska had not stopped presenting proves for negligence of the authorities, they decided to ‘tackle’ the activist with proceedings for infringement of the personal rights of the regional government.

The court heard the case on October 21st, 2021 (I C 1226/20 Regional Court in Opole). In the court’s view, Alina Czyżewska’s action fell within the bounds of acceptable criticism of those holding public office.

These boundaries are much wider in the case of persons holding public office than in the case of other subjects remaining as outside this sphere,” explained Katarzyna Sieheń. The Marshal “should take into account the fact that there will always be a group of people who are dissatisfied with his actions and these dissatisfied people, within the very constitutional principle of freedom of speech, have the right to formulate their conclusions, opinions and claims.

Another important circumstance for the court was that the activist acted in defence of a legitimate social interest. It was thanks to her initiative – and this was particularly emphasised by the court – that it was the defendant’s initiative, and not the plaintiff’s, that the irregularities in the organisation of the competition were revealed.

‘Silencing’ lawsuits are called SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) lawsuits and are now considered a growing threat to democracy and public participation in the European Union.

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