Thursday

20th Jan 2022

Lukashenko-linked firm suing EUobserver and EU Council

  • Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko (l) with Russian president Vladimir Putin in May (Photo: Kremlin.ru)
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One of Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko's family-linked firms is suing EUobserver, as well as the EU Council, after being blacklisted.

The Minsk-based Dana Astra 1000 has ordered EUobserver to take down an article, entitled Lukashenko-linked firms active in EU member Cyprus, from October last year, on pain of €2,500 a day in damages.

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It launched its case at the Court of First Instance in Brussels in November, claiming the story harmed the "honour" of the real-estate company by giving the "false" impression it got perks due to its links with Lukashenko's daughter-in-law, Lilya Lukashenka.

In a personal touch, it has sought damages from an individual EUobserver journalist as well as the Brussels-based news agency.

Dana Astra's Belgian lawyers, SIA Avocats, also dug out the reporter's private address from Belgium's national registry and sent letters with ultimatums to his home.

And this created "an additional element of intimidation, considering how the Lukashenko regime has previously targeted its opponents with violence in other EU member states," the Flemish Trade Union of Journalists (VVJ) and the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), a Berlin-based NGO, said in a statement.

EUobserver notified Belgian law-enforcement authorities, who said the threat-level was "low".

But despite that, Dana Astra's lawsuit was designed to "bully the outlet [EUobserver] and its journalist into silence," the VVJ and ECPMF warned.

"All the facts in our article are backed by official documents. They [Dana Astra] don't even deny these facts," EUobserver's editor-in-chief, Koert Debeuf, said.

"This Lukashenko-linked firm is trying to stop us from doing journalism. That's not going to happen", Debeuf said.

The anti-EUobserver lawsuit comes after Dana Astra also challenged the EU Council at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg in April.

EU states blacklisted it in 2020 on grounds that "Liliya Lukashenka, daughter-in-law of the president, has a high-ranking position in the company" and that it was "benefiting from and supporting the Lukashenko regime".

But for Dana Astra, the EU made "errors of assessment".

And its transatlantic law-firm, the New York-based White & Case, has demanded that the ECJ "annuls" the EU-sanctions decision.

Dana Astra v. Council is one of more than 10 lawsuits brought by Lukashenko-linked firms and businessmen against the EU in the past six months.

Dana Astra v. EUobserver is the third case against this website in recent times in what the VVJ and NGOs have called SLAPPs: strategic legal actions designed to limit public participation.

The EU Commission declined to comment on any specific anti-EUobserver lawsuit.

"However, the Commission is working intensively on this issue [SLAPPs] and is currently preparing a package to address it," a spokesman for EU values commissioner Věra Jourová said.

"The aim is to propose an effective package of legislative ... measures, addressing also the cross-border dimension of SLAPPs," he said.

"Media freedom is a key component of European democracies," he added.

Roberta Metsola, a Maltese centre-right MEP, also declined to comment on Dana Astra v. EUobserver.

But speaking in general, "vexatious lawsuits that seek to muzzle our journalists" were on the rise in EU countries, she told this website.

"We must be clear to make a difference between legitimate lawsuits from people trying to protect their reputation and those that aim to silence their targets," Metsola, who co-wrote a European Parliament report on the menace, said.

'Abuse'

"SLAPPs are about abuse of the legal order", she said.

"We want them to end", Metsola said.

Meanwhile, if the long arm of Lukashenko was increasingly active inside EU states, that was nothing compared to what he was doing to gag people at home.

His judges sentenced a prominent opposition blogger to 18 years in prison, where his victims have reported being tortured, on Tuesday (14 December).

And Belarusians, such as EUobserver's sources, who gave information to foreign media or diplomats that was used in EU blacklists, will be jailed for up to 12 years after Lukashenko changed his penal code this week.

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