SLAPP case against Czech climate activists

CZECH REPUBLIC/ 2018 - now
Majda Slámová

In 2018, participants of annual Climate Camp protests in Northern Bohemia, organized by a movement Limity jsme my (“We are the Limits”) blocked for several hours a mine Bílina, one of the largest lignite mines in the country. The blockade was halted by police arresting around 280 protesters.  

One year later, in 2019, the coal company Severočeké doly (“Northern Bohemian Mines”) sued 90 people for alleged damages. These 90 people were selected randomly including people who evidently did not participate in the protest (for example, one sued individual attended wedding at the time). The absurdity of the company’s action is illustrated by the fact that among the people sued was one employee of the mining company, who was falsely identified by the police as a wrongdoer. 

These mistakes show quite clearly that the true reason for filing a lawsuit is not a loss of profit for the company. Rather, its aim is to discourage protesters from participating in such acts of civil disobedience in the future. This financial threat came after the Mining Authority issued 43 warnings and 48 fines (together several thousands of Czech crowns) for unlawful behavior. 

The company wanted 90 people sued to pay collectively 661 thousand Czech crowns in the pre-action notice. All of those sued refused to pay for the alleged damage. As one protester stated: “I will not pay the amount for the same reason I attended the event. We're supposed to be reducing our carbon footprint, and at the same time, the expansion of Billina mine was being considered? The way our society lives now is unsustainable and, in fact, incompatible with the instinct for self-preservation.” According to her, she cannot respect laws which enable destruction of the natural world. 

“I don't feel guilty in any sense for protecting the planet,” said another woman to whom was sent the pre-action notice. “I think the pre-action notice is meant to intimidate people who would consider such a protest,” she said.

A spokesman of the coal company has stated that the company does not seek compensation for loss of profit, only a compensation for the wage costs of its employees and external companies who could not perform the agreed work during the shutting down of the mining machines. Even though a similar blockade took place in the previous year, in 2017, the company did not decide to file a lawsuit. Now, the situation is different after the second blockade, as it could worry the company’s shareholders, the spokesperson said.

As the protesters did not pay the sum, the company brought the case to court in summer 2019.

After four years, in 2023, the court has issued a judgement ordering 83 protesters to pay the alleged damages (in the meantime, the sued amount of money is several thousands of Czech crowns more due to interest on late payment). The legal team of the climate group is going to appeal that decision. Legal defense is costly, and the movement has launched several fundraising campaigns.

“We think it is clear that the coal company's efforts are not about money lost, but about intimidating and silencing climate activists,” says the fundraising page. Activists from “We are the Limits” continue to fight in the legal battle, arguing, that fossil companies’ are guilty of billions for accelerating climate crisis.

In its 9 years history of organizing civil disobedience to stop expansion of the mines, the movement and its efficient legal team has several legal victories when courts repeatedly declared police actions against protesters unlawful. Whether activists succeed in the battle with the fossil corporation and their lawyers remains to be seen.  


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