Viennese Court Endorses the City of Vienna’s SLAPP Against Palestinian Rights AdvocatePublished on Tue Apr 12 2022 - modified on Wed Apr 13 2022
European Legal Support Center (ELSC), Amsterdam and Vienna, April 13, 2022
In a highly contestable decision delivered on 6 April 2022 in the case between the City of Vienna and a member of BDS Austria, the Commercial Court of Vienna endorsed the City’s Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP), ruling against the BDS activists. The Austrian activists will appeal this decision.
The judge ordered that the BDS activist must no longer use the logo of the City of Vienna in connection with any publication or public statement in order to avoid that the latter may be interpreted as issued by the City. The Court forbade the use of the City’s logo, although it was not proven in any way that the activist had ever done so.
The City sued the activist for publishing a sarcastic social media post that contained a picture of the famous “Visit Apartheid” poster attached to a billboard carrying the official logo of the City of Vienna. The City alleges that the BDS movement holds “antisemitic views” and “incites hatred against Israeli people”. Accordingly, it claimed that being publicly associated with BDS and with “the designation of the situation in Israel/Palestine as ‘Apartheid’ causes damage to [its] reputation”, and that this would therefore amount to defamation.
The judgement of the Vienna Court significantly deviates from prior judgments issued by the European Court of Human Rights, notably its judgment in Baldassi and Others v. France, as well as from emerging case law in Germany, all of which confirm the legitimacy of the Palestinian civil society-led BDS movement.
The Court’s decision is deeply problematic for the following reasons:
- The Court exclusively based its reasoning on the City’s documents, while disregarding the 22 pieces of evidence submitted on behalf of the BDS activist, including legal opinions of renowned international and Israeli scholars.
- The Court also ignored that the existence of an Israeli system of apartheid that oppresses the Palestinian people is a fact that has been meticulously documented by leading human rights organizations and UN experts, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, B’tselem and the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
- It was clear from the BDS activist’s social media post that the apartheid poster did neither originate from the City nor express the views of the City. The activist’s post was not a factual assertion but rather satirical humour, which was taken out of context and used to silence advocacy for Palestinian rights.
The BDS activist intends to appeal the decision and is ready, if necessary, to stand before the European Court of Human Rights to assert his fundamental right to freedom of expression, a right enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Regarding next steps, the activist’s lawyer, Elisabetta Folliero, said:
“My client wants to proceed with the appeal, which is crucial for the defence of the fundamental right to freedom of expression. The City’s claim of financial compensation for damages and the cost of the legal proceedings, which my client will be required to pay if the appeals court upholds this controversial judgement, has already a chilling effect on support for Palestinian rights in Austria. For this reason, we ask for solidarity, including donations, which will support our appeal.”