The undersigned organisations express their serious concern at the legal proceedings being brought in London against journalist Eliot Higgins, founder of the investigative journalism outlet Bellingcat. The lawsuit is being taken by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch who is widely known as “Putin’s Chef” due to his catering businesses and his close ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Prigozhin claims that he was defamed, and thereby caused serious reputational harm, by five tweets published by Higgins on his Twitter page in August 2020. He is suing Higgins not only for the content of the tweets, but for the content of the media articles (including reports by Bellingcat and CNN) that were linked in the tweets. The media articles referred to Prigozhin’s business operations’ tight links to Russia’s Defence Ministry and its intelligence arm, the GRU.
In September 2021, Prigozhin announced via his press office that he had intended to sue Higgins and Bellingcat in the UK but was prevented from doing so due to the sanctions that had been imposed on him. The UK imposed sanctions on Prigozhin in 2020 for involvement in “significant foreign mercenary activity in Libya and multiple breaches of the UN arms embargo.”
However in December 2021, Prigozhin succeeded in serving Higgins with the lawsuit. This raises questions around whether and why Her Majesty’s Treasury gave Prigozhin permission to proceed with the legal action despite the sanctions.
“We believe that the lawsuit that is being brought against Eliot Higgins is a strategic lawsuit against public participation,” the undersigned organisations said. SLAPPs are an abuse of the law aimed at silencing public interest speech. Index on Censorship has filed a media freedom alert to the Council of Europe Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists.
In March 2022 Discreet Law LLP, which had been representing Prigozhin, successfully applied to withdraw from representing him. They did not publicly give any reason for the withdrawal at the time.
The preliminary hearing in the case is due to take place on 13 April 2022.
Index on Censorship
Committee to Protect Journalists
The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
International Academy Serbia
International Institute – International Media Center
International Press Institute
The Global Forum for Media Development
Justice for Journalists Foundation
National Union of Journalists
Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP)
Reporters Without Borders
The Society of Authors
Spotlight on Corruption
South East Europe Media Organisation – SEEMO