Poland: Key reflections and action points from the Anti-SLAPP Conference

Poland: Key reflections and action points from the Anti-SLAPP Conference - Protection

David Kaye, Irena Guidikowa , Zuzanna Rudzińska-Bluszcz Credits: Kuba Atys / Agencja Wyborcza.pl


ARTICLE 19 welcomes promising declarations made by the Polish Minister of Justice during the first international conference in Warsaw with regard to setting up robust safeguards to counter SLAPPs, which must include decriminalising defamation. Together with the Polish Anti-SLAPP working group, we stand ready to share our expertise and to be part of consultations alongside other interested stakeholders.

While, undoubtedly, the adoption of the European Union anti-SLAPP Directive marks a significant step forward in the fight against legal harassment targeting watchdogs, national legislation must be broader and more complex to respond to the local contexts and provide effective safeguards. How can we ensure that the transposition phase does not represent a missed opportunity? What lessons can we learn from good practices in other countries? What are the specific challenges posed by SLAPPs (strategic lawsuits against public participation) and legal pressure on journalists in Poland? These questions and more were discussed during a two-day International Conference on SLAPPs in Warsaw – the first event of such kind in Poland. 

The Anti-SLAPP Conference in Warsaw took place on 25–26 April and was organised by AGORA SA, ARTICLE 19 Europe, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Prague Civil Society Centre, and Citizen Network Watchdog Poland.  


Consult the conference website

The Conference was inaugurated with keynote speeches delivered by David Kaye, ARTICLE 19 Board Member and Former UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression; Zuzanna Rudzińska-Bluszcz, Poland’s Deputy Minister of Justice; Irena Guidikova, Head of the Democratic Institutions and Freedoms Department at the Council of Europe; and MEP Viola von Crammon. The keynote speakers emphasised the role and importance of international standards on freedom of expression, particularly Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights 

International standards coupled with European Union and Council of Europe proposals 

David Kaye underscored the multi-dimensional consequences of SLAPPs and other forms of legal harassment. These include attacks on fundamental rights such as access to information and freedom of expression, as well as the financial and psychological toll on activists and journalists. Additionally, there is a growing tendency toward self-censorship, which undermines the resilience of civil society. Professor Kaye emphasised that criminal defamation is highly problematic as it is disproportionate to its aim, and therefore does not pass the three-part test that allows for the constraining of expression under very specific and limited circumstances. 

Irena Guidikova shed light on the details of the Council of Europe Recommendation on SLAPPs, which follows in the footsteps of the EU Directive but takes a broader approach. It covers domestic cases and includes administrative and penal law. The latter component proved to be particularly difficult to agree upon among member states. The Recommendation emphasises a holistic approach to countering legal harassment, which includes, for instance, training for judges. 

Zuzanna Rudzińska-Bluszcz assessed that in the Polish context, for an anti-SLAPP law to be effective, it should encompass domestic scope and consider, beyond civil law, administrative and criminal law. The Deputy Minister enumerated several provisions of the Criminal Code that are problematic and require attention, including Article 196 on insulting religious feelings. ARTICLE 19 welcomes this remark, as we have long advocated for the abolition of this provision. Most recently, we supported activists who stood trial for distributing posters depicting the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo. 


Situation in Poland 

In Poland, a significant issue lies in defamation and insult provisions being included in the criminal code, potentially leading to jail time for speech. ARTICLE 19 has been a longstanding advocate for decriminalising defamation and abolishing the law regarding insult to religious feelings. This issue, as demonstrated in the context of trials against LGBTQI+ activists, highlights the intertwined nature of these laws with the right to protest, requiring their amendment and better protection of the right to protest itself. 

The previous government, led by the Law and Justice (PiS) party, incorporated SLAPPs and letters threatening lawsuits into their arsenal of tactics aimed at weakening civil society. Abusive legal proceedings were often initiated by politicians, ministers, or state-owned companies. Gazeta Wyborcza, one of the country’s leading media outlets, has faced over 100 such lawsuits. Another significant issue is the mass influx of requests for rectification that the KRRiT (National Broadcasting Council) fails to filter beforehand. This suggests that these requests are being used as a malicious tactic to impede daily operations of newsrooms. 

The scale of attacks against watchdogs operating far away from big city agglomerations has been highlighted by testimonies from local journalists, who continue their vital work for their communities despite facing threats, pressure, and risking their well-being. For example, Rafał Remont, editor-in-chief of the news outlet szczeciner.pl, was sued for simply asking several questions about a potential conflict of interest between a mayor and a powerful energy company. This legal battle cost him six years in court. He eventually quit his job, the story was never published, he suffered financial losses, and the court case had consequences in his personal life.  

The way forward 

The conference concluded with the undoubtedly most awaited intervention delivered by Minister of Justice Adam Bodnar. The implementation of the directive will rest with the Codification Commission of Civil Law, chaired by Professor Marek Safjan. However, Minister Bodnar stressed that anti-SLAPP actions are not limited to the field of civil law. The Codification Commission of Criminal Law, chaired by Professor Włodzimierz Wróbel, will be tasked with addressing 212 (defamation) and 216 (insult) provisions of the Criminal Code. Both commissions will collaborate on repealing provisions that impose criminal liability, effectively marking the end of criminal defamation in Poland – a campaign championed by various civil society groups for close to 20 years. Additionally, Minister Bodnar has announced a goal to develop and implement a comprehensive range of anti-SLAPP measures, extending beyond the scope of the EU directive. He also mentioned several additional support measures, such as mitigating the cost of legal proceedings and providing free legal aid. 


ARTICLE 19 welcomes these promising declarations and will closely monitor the transposition phase to ensure that member states, including Poland, will not confine their efforts to the framework set out by the directive. Instead, they should rise to the challenge and enact robust anti-SLAPP laws.  Together with the Polish Anti-SLAPP working group, we stand ready to share our expertise and to be part of consultations alongside other interested stakeholders.