Sherpa, React, Mediapart, Le Point & l’Obs facing a defamation suit filed by one of Bolloré’s company, Socfin

[January 25 2018] Public hearings will take place on the 25th and 26th of January before the 17th Chamber of the High Court of Paris.

Follow with #OnNeSeTairaPas #Bolloré

Today 25th of January, Sherpa’s trial for defamation will begin at 1:30 pm. The Luxembourg-based company Socfin is suing Sherpa for having published a press release on villagers’ claims against the activities conducted by the company’s subsidiary in Cameroon, Socapalm.

On this occasion, we are publishing an op-ed “ We won’t be silenced by Bolloré gag suits! ”[1] with  the list of persons and organizations who have been sued by the Bolloré Group and Vincent Bolloré himself since 2009. We also mobilize ourselves together in a a set up  collective “On ne se taira pas! ” to defend freedom of expression.

In 2015, villagers affected by the oil palm plantations run by Socapalm in Cameroon raised their voice against the company, its parent entity Socfin, and the Bolloré Group accusing them of land grabbing, among other claims. In April of that year, Sherpa and other French media published an article authored by the NGO ReAct which echoed the community’s demands.

It must be recalled that, following a complaint filed by Sherpa and other NGOs before the OECD National Contact Point in France in 2010, Bolloré Group recognized the existing conflicts regarding land issues. Yet, it is the terms “land grabbing” used in the article that are considered defamatory by Socfin and on which it brought the legal action.

This lawsuit appears to be part of a so-called SLAPP (“Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”), a strategy followed by the group for the last years. Indeed, there are at least 20 legal proceedings initiated by Bolloré or Socfin since 2009. In 2011, Sherpa was already the target of another lawsuit on defamation that was withdrawn afterwards.

SLAPP act as deterrent measures for journalists and human rights defenders. These legal proceedings attempt to create financial and psychological intimidations for defendants, isolate investigative journalists and to threaten civil society organizations which try to highlight misconducts of these companies. Unfortunately, these sort of strategic litigations tend to become the norm for some multinational companies’ in response to challenges posed by civil society pressure.

General interest being at stakes, Sherpa, along with other NGOs and media launched the collective “On ne se taira pas”, to raise awareness on these strategic lawsuits. It will also promote reforms in the French legal system, in order to fight censorship and enhance protection of freedom of expression against these SLAPP.

Contact :

Clara Gonzales, litigation and communication officer : 01 42 21 33 25 / clara.gonzales@asso-sherpa.org

[1] « Face aux poursuites-bâillons de Bolloré, nous ne nous tairons pas ! »