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Pesticide trial in South Tyrol ends with acquittal

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Karl Bär in front of the court
Karl Bär on the day of acquittal. Picture © Umweltinstitut / Joerg Farys

In the South Tyrolean pesticide trial, the Bolzano Regional Court on Friday acquitted Karl Bär of the last remaining charge. Bär denounced the high use of pesticides in apple cultivation in South Tyrol as an employee of the Munich Environmental Institute in a poster campaign in 2017. For this purpose, he alienated a poster of the South Tyrolean tourism advertising with the term "Pestizidtirol". The public prosecutor's office saw this as trademark counterfeiting, which must be prosecuted ex officio, and therefore charged Bär.

On the last day of the trial, however, the prosecution requested that the charge be changed to defamation. However, in the course of the trial, South Tyrol's Provincial Councilor Arnold Schuler and other 1375 plaintiffs had already withdrawn their criminal petitions, with which they wanted to see Bär's criticism of pesticides condemned as defamation. Where there is no plaintiff, there is no judge - and so the court finally acquitted Bär.

Acquittal after 20 months of trial

With this elegant legal maneuver by the public prosecutor's office, one of the most sensational lawsuits against an environmental organization in Europe ended with a complete acquittal after more than two years of investigation and 20 months of proceedings. Karl Bär and the Environmental Institute considered the verdict a significant victory for freedom of expression. "The state government's attempt to legally prevent criticism of pesticide use has failed. This ruling is groundbreaking for everyone in Europe who is committed to a healthy environment and nature," commented Karl Bär.

The trial had attracted a lot of attention from the beginning and brought bad press to South Tyrol. Not only environmentalists saw the trial as an attempt to silence critics by legal means. Because in the event of a conviction, Bär and the initially co-defendant author Alexander Schiebel (The Miracle of Mals) would have been threatened with imprisonment and millions in damages. "In October 2020, the Council of Europe had classified the lawsuits against my client in South Tyrol as a strategic lawsuit and thus as an attack on freedom of expression," said Bär's lawyer Nicola Canestrini.

EU wants to make such lawsuits more difficult in the future

The lawsuit drew public attention to such strategic lawsuits, also known as SLAPP. This stands for Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation. The EU Commission now wants to put a stop to such intimidation suits with an anti-SLAPP initiative. It has presented its own directive on the subject, which Parliament and the Council of Europe must discuss and adopt. (leo)


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