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Don’t Turn the Other Cheek

8 February 2024

BCNL, in collaboration with the Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation, is embarking on an exciting new adventure!

Don't Turn the Other Cheek Project is specifically designed for activists, civil society organizations, and journalists who are dedicated to safeguarding Bulgarian nature and biodiversity. Through a series of initiatives and training programmes, this project will equip participants with essential skills to counteract SLAPPs that target climate activists in Bulgaria.

The prevalence of SLAPPs, or strategic lawsuits against public participation, is on the rise across Europe with large corporations, politicians, and local authorities increasingly employing this tactic as a weapon against public participation and civic activism. The impact of such lawsuits, or even the mere threat of them, has a chilling effect on public participation. The "Don't Turn the Other Cheek" project seeks to empower participants to effectively counteract this growing trend and strengthen the resilience of those working to protect the environment in Bulgaria.

The project will kick off with two training sessions:

  • April 12-13, 2024, in Sofia
  • April 19-20, 2024, in Burgas

Each training session will gather 15 activists and journalists working on environmental issues. Over the course of two days experienced attorneys, human rights activists, and judges will collaborate to enhance the legal knowledge and response tactics of the participants. The aim is to equip them with skills to identify, prevent, and prompt reporting in the event of a SLAPP lawsuit against them.

Two recent examples of SLAPPs highlight the legal challenges faced by individuals and organizations working on public interest issues. In the first case, the Lev Ins insurance company initiated a SLAPP defamation case against the Mediapool online media claiming 1,000,000 BGN in damages. In January 2024, Lev Ins lost the case at first instance. In the second case, the Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plan – owned by the Bulgarian Energy Holding - filed a SLAPP lawsuit against a former employee and nurse, Natalia Stancheva, along with her mother, claiming the exorbitant 500,000 BGN. The two women, through access for public information requests, had exposed the existence of an unregulated employee medical centre operating on the nuclear power plant’s grounds for decades, in close proximity to the plant's fifth nuclear reactor. Natalia was fired from her job and both she and her mother were accused of abusing their constitutional right to file petitions. On January 11, 2024, the Kozloduy Power Plant filed a SLAPP lawsuit against them. Following outrage and calls from the Association of European Journalists - Bulgaria and the Access to Information Programme for urgent state intervention under the Whistleblower Protection Act, the nuclear plan dropped the lawsuit several days later.


What we need to know about SLAPPs

  • SLAPPs are predominantly brought against individual civil society activists and journalists

The primary targets of SLAPPs are usually individual activists, journalists, as well as NGOs and media outlets that uncover corrupt practices and other violations detrimental to the public interest. These individuals and organizations are subjected to lawsuits, often demanding substantial amounts, with the intention to tarnish their reputation and subject them to prolonged court battles that drain them financially. In many instances, their assets are frozen while the cases are ongoing. The overarching goal of these lawsuits is not necessarily to secure a legal victory, but rather to stifle and intimidate dissenting voices. An analysis by the Bulgarian Anti-Corruption Fund reveals that journalists win 85% of civil and criminal cases brought against them.

  • Bulgaria stands out as one of the leading countries in Europe when it comes to SLAPPs

Despite ranking second to last in the EU in terms of press freedom (2022 Reporters Without Borders' press freedom index) and corruption (2022 Transparency International’s Corruption Perception index), Bulgaria holds a prominent position concerning SLAPPs. It shares the fourth position with France in the EU in terms of the number of SLAPP lawsuits recorded from January 2022 to August 2023. This information is derived from a study commissioned by the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs (LIBE Committee) in the European Parliament (the report is available here).

  • The rising prevalence of SLAPPs represents a mounting threat to democracy in Europe

According to the latest report from the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE), the number of such cases is on the rise, taking on a more ominous character and increasingly targeting journalists and activists. The Coalition is sounding the alarm, emphasizing that these SLAPP cases are posing a growing danger to democracy throughout Europe (read the report here).


Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only

and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or The Netherlands Helsinki Committee. Neither

the European Union nor the granting authority (the NHC) can be held responsible for them.