BRUSSELS – Croatian immunologist Srecko Sladoljev had just finished telling the story of how he was bullied, suspended and blocked by security guards from entering his workplace after raising concerns about a questionable swine-flu vaccine being readied for widespread use in his country.
Preceding Sladoljev on the dais was Italian whistleblower Andrea Franzoso and Spanish whistleblower Ana Garrido. The three speeches were highlights of the symposium, Human Rights and Whistleblowing: Legislating to Protect the Victims at the European Parliament on November 17.
Among the Parliament members listening was Benedek Javor. A Green Party member and long-time public health activist from Hungary, Javor is co-leading the campaign for EU-wide legislation to strengthen rights and protections for whistleblowers.
Javor was quiet the entire morning – that is, until Sladoljev finished his talk. “God…”, Javor began, before pausing and lowering his head, as if fighting to keep the words inside, “F–king tough.”
There is little doubt that everyone in the room was thinking the same thing.
Garrido, a former government employee in Boadilla del Monte near Madrid, recounted her role in unraveling what has become known as the Gürtel (“belt”) case. Speaking through an interpreter, Garrido explained how in 2007 she grew suspicious after being instructed to award contracts to companies outside the official process. She reported what she knew and was fired, and officials have been blocking her efforts to be compensated ever since.
Judge Baltasar Garzón has since expanded the investigation to ensnare dozens of figures in the People’s Party. It is now one of Spain’s largest political corruption scandals in recent memory. Losses to public coffers due to bribery, money laundering, tax evasion and contract irregularities total an estimated €120 million. The trial for 37 people began in October.
Franzoso was forced out of his job after he reported to the police financial irregularities he had unearthed at his company. His disclosures forced the president of the company to resign, but Franzoso also lost his job.
Together, the three whistleblowers are helping to support efforts by Javor and fellow member Elly Schlein, who co-chairs the Parliament’s Intergroup on Integrity, Transparency, Corruption and Organised Crime. Schlein is a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, which hosted the meeting in Brussels.
The meeting also provided a platform to showcase an activist-academia project that is working to advance whistleblower rights in Europe. Led by the International Baltasar Garzón Foundation, the project also includes Libera Associations, the Restarting the Future campaign, Latte Creative, University of Pavia and Blueprint for Free Speech.
Image © European Union 2014 – European Parliament (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons license)