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ARTICLE 19 urges Austrian court to halt ‘libel tourism’ case

ARTICLE 19 is concerned that the Austrian courts are being used to silence investigative journalism in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstani news website 24.kg is currently facing damages of 40,000 Euro after being sued in the Austrian courts over an article into the breakdown of a business partnership in Kyrgyzstan.

One of the companies, named in the article, T&F Trade and Finance, argued that 24.kg’s claims that they were ‘pseudo investors’ were defamatory. But instead of pursuing legal action in Kyrgyzstan, they used Article 1330 of the Austrian Civil Code to bring a civil law suit in Austria, where T&F Trade and Finance is registered.

Barbora Bukovska, Senior Director for Law and Policy at ARTICLE 19 said:

“This is a clear case of so-called ‘libel tourism’, a practice where powerful and wealthy plaintiffs use defamation laws in other jurisdictions to silence those who try to hold them to account elsewhere.”

“By bringing this case in Austria not Kyrgyzstan, 24.kg is unlikely get a fair trial. They were not even aware of the case until months after it was filed. They cannot afford legal representation in Austria, never mind the excessive 40,000 Euro damages.”

“The Austrian Courts should not be used to undermine freedom of expression in Kyrgyzstan. At the very least, we urge the Austrian courts to delay this hearing until 24kg are able to find a lawyer who will represent them in court.”

Damages of 40,000 EURO

At the end of the hearing in April 2019, the Austrian court ruled that 24.kg should pay T&F Trade and Finance 40,000 euros in damages. 24kg previously received some temporary pro bono legal support to launch an appeal against this judgment. However, this support is no longer available and they are without representation for the appeal hearing on July 11 at Vienna Commercial Court.

A spokesperson for 24.kg said:

When publishing this article, our journalist acted in good faith based on the evidence they received; we have subsequently published T&F Trade and Finance’s version of events as well.

“Pursuing this case not only affects 24kg but it will have a chilling effect on all news outlets in Kyrgyzstan that report on events that are in the public interest.”

ARTICLE 19’s Bukovska also warned that the case could have an impact beyond Austria and Kyrgyzstan:

“As we saw previously in the UK, libel tourism poses a serious threat to freedom of expression around the world.

“Legal action taken against the investigative journalism sends a warning signal to the already vulnerable media in Kyrgyzstan to refrain from criticism of powerful business interests. The courts in Europe should not be used to protect the powerful and wealthy at the expense of global free speech.”

For more information, please contact Pam Cowburn, [email protected]

Notes to Editor

 “How Kyrgyz people turned into Austrian pseudo-investors”, published on 24.kg site on 19 March 2018.

Libel tourism is the term used for libel cases brought in foreign jurisdictions against publishers or media outlets. Until UK libel law was reformed in 2014, London was known as the libel capital of the world.