The European Parliament approved a new law on Tuesday, February 27, designed to protect journalists, activists, academics and their organizations from Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) that aim to silence them.

The law is particularly relevant for Greece, where nine international press freedom organizations issued a joint statement last month demanding that Grigoris Dimitriadis, the former general secretary and nephew of Greek Prime Minister, drop the two cases he filed against Greek investigative journalists and media organizations.

Dimitriadis is suing the journalists and organizations for their coverage of his alleged involvement in Greece’s spyware scandal, and the cases have been characterized as SLAPP by the press freedom organizations.

The “New EU rules ensuring protection for journalists and media outlets from SLAPP” was approved with 546 votes “for”, 47 “against” and 31 abstentions and comprises the first EU rules of its kind which not only sets out to tackle domestic SLAPP but also cross-border SLAPP.

The rules aim to protect persons and organizations working on matters of public interest from unfounded lawsuits, such as in the fields of fundamental rights, corruption, protection of democracy and the fight against disinformation, said the European Parliament.

EP Rapporteur Tiemo Wölken pointed out at a press conference after the vote that the law, first and foremost, establishes a definition for what constitutes SLAPP in Europe, which will finally enable the EU to start collecting representative data on the issue.

“We know that there are more domestic SLAPP than cross-border cases, but we don’t have data on either yet because there was no shared definition,” he explained.

Importantly, the rules state that unfounded cases can be dismissed early, and that defendants are financially protected because they will have the possibility of asking claimants to pay the estimated cost of proceedings, such as the cost of legal representation and damages.

Moreover, in case defendants request an early dismissal of the case, the burden of proof will fall on the claimant.

Wölken explained, “If you are being sued for not reason by politician, you fall under scope of directive. It is designed to present misuse of power by politicians, individuals and companies that can use their power and money to silence journalists.”

The rules also provide defendants with protection in the case of lawsuits filed by claimants originating outside of the EU, and from what is called “forum shopping,” where claimants pick the most favorable jurisdiction for their case.

The new Directive comes into effect 20 days after it is published in the EU Official Journals and EU Member States will have a maximum of two years to transpose the rules into their national systems.

When they do transpose the law, EU governments must make sure that defendants will have access to legal aid in the event of cross-border civil proceedings, the governments should gather data on SLAPP and publish judgements, and also offer easily accessible information for defendants on safeguards, legal aid, financial and psychological support and more.