The two defamation lawsuits are being brought by Russian businessman Roman Abramovich and the Russian state energy company Rosneft in relation to Belton’s book, Putin’s People: How the KGB took back Russia and then took on the West, which was published in April 2020.
Abramovich’s complaint relates to 26 extracts in the book, including the suggestion that his purchase of Chelsea Football Club in 2003 was directed by Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Rosneft’s complaint relates to claims that they participated in the expropriation of Yukos Oil Company, which had been privately owned by businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Both claims were filed in March 2021.
“We believe that the lawsuits against Belton and HarperCollins amount to strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs),” the organisations said, referring to a form of legal harassment used by wealthy and powerful entities to silence journalists and other public watchdogs.
“SLAPPs are used to drain their targets of as much time, money, and energy as possible in order to bully them into silence. The individual may be sued personally and several lawsuits may be brought at the same time, including in different jurisdictions,” the organisations said. “These are hallmarks of SLAPPs, and they’re consistent with what Belton and HarperCollins have faced.”
Five separate claims were initially filed against Belton and HarperCollins, but three have since been resolved without the need for costs or damages being awarded to the claimants. In June 2021, Abramovich filed an additional lawsuit against HarperCollins in Australia in relation to Belton’s book.
“We, once again, urge the UK government to consider measures, including legislative reforms, that would protect public watchdogs from being subject to burdensome, lengthy, and financially draining legal actions, which can stifle public debate,” the organisations concluded. “Our democracy relies on their ability to hold power to account.”
Association of European Journalists (AEJ)
AEJ Polish Section
Blueprint for Free Speech
Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland (CFoIS)
Citizen Network Watchdog Poland
Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
Index on Censorship
Justice for Journalists Foundation
National Union of Journalists (NUJ)
OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Society of Journalists, Warsaw
Spotlight on Corruption
The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation