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CASE: Pesticide SLAPP in Südtirol / Alto Adige ends in victory for freedom of expression

On 6 May 2022, in a landmark win for advocacy efforts combating SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation), anti-pesticide activist Karl Bär the Munich Environmental Institute (Umweltinstitut München) was acquitted of all charges in the SLAPP case against him.

The court acquitted Bär after each of the original 1,376 complainants withdrew their criminal charges following international public pressure in January 2022. 

The case started in September 2017 when the Provincial Minister for agriculture of the Autonomous Province of Bozen/Bolzano filed criminal charges against the Munich Environmental Institute (Umweltinstitut München). The charges were of defamation of South-Tyrolean agriculture and brand infringement, and were also being brought in the name of more than 1,300 apple growers from the region. The case arose following criticism from the Munich Environmental Institute about the massive use of pesticides that is ubiquitous in South Tyrolean fruit plantations. 

One day before the trial against an employee of the Munich Environmental Institute, Karl Bär, opened on 15 September 2020, the Province of Bozen/Bolzano under the public pressure and wave of international solidarity with the accused, announced the withdrawal of all criminal complaints. However only in January 2022 was this promise fulfilled. The criminal proceedings against Karl Bär and the Munich Environmental Institute still continued after this because of the “ex officio” nature of the brand infringement accusation. Only on 6 May 2022 were the criminal proceedings brought to an end, when the Bolzano Regional Court ruled in Karl Bär’s favour.

The lawsuits brought against the Munich Environmental Institute joined a series of legal actions brought by South Tyrol’s public authorities and apple-growing industry against critics of high pesticide use in the region. Those include SLAPPs (strategic lawsuits against public participation) against local activists advocating for a pesticide-free municipality, as well as the Austrian author and film-maker Alexander Schiebel and his publisher Jacob Radloff. 

To read more about the successful advocacy campaign:

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