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If a citizen of a nation is deliberately spreading lies against a given government of a country (let's say U.S. federal or state government) to undermine its capacity to act properly then can the government sue its own citizen for libel?

Has it happened before?

  • Are you asking specifically about the United States, or nations around the world? – Ron Beyer Oct 13 '18 at 20:55
  • @RonBeyer Yeah 😅😅. If such a thing hasn't happened in US , then example of other countries would also do. – Aashish Loknath Panigrahi Oct 13 '18 at 20:59
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    Typically a country that doesn't allow speaking out against the government makes it a crime, not a civil tort, so they don't sue for it, they prosecute as a criminal offense. There are a lot of examples of that around the world. – Ron Beyer Oct 13 '18 at 21:06
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    Abraham Lincoln apparently sought to close a newspaper he claimed wasn't printing the truth. See footnote #34 @ ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/cgi/… – David Blomstrom Oct 15 '18 at 0:39
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"Seditious libel" has happened before, but not in the US. This comes up in NY Times v. Sullivan, which notes that

For good reason, "no court of last resort in this country has ever held, or even suggested, that prosecutions for libel on government have any place in the American system of jurisprudence." City of Chicago v. Tribune Co., 307 Ill. 595, 601, 139 N.E.

This Volokh article gives various citations showing that a government entity cannot sue for libel.

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  • Is sedition like libel ? – Aashish Loknath Panigrahi Oct 13 '18 at 21:04
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    No, sedition inciting against the goverment. The Crown used the law against seditious libel to suppress dissent, which is why we have the First Amendment. – user6726 Oct 13 '18 at 22:19
  • This is correct, although a criminal sanction for defaming a private party brought by the government is constitutional although it is not very rare in the United States. – ohwilleke Oct 15 '18 at 12:21
  • @AashishLoknathPanigrahi Seditious libel means engaging in acts attempting to overthrow the government or to encourage people to disregard its lawful authority, by means of statements about the government or senior government officials that would be defamatory if made about a private individual or business. – ohwilleke Dec 24 '19 at 22:00
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On January 31, 2018, an unprecedented defamation lawsuit was filed by the US Navy & their corporate housing partner against a US citizen and military spouse. They alleged that her statements about unsafe military housing conditions at US bases were untrue and defamatory.

Communications between both partners, which were released via FOIA, strongly suggest, if not state this litigation was funded by the US Navy or US tax payers. Thus, evidence suggests the US Navy, an agency of the federal government, sued a citizen and military spouse for alleged defamation. The case number is 18-00042. It was litigated in Hawaii District Court.

However, they pursued a prior claim against her (14-00217, Hawaii District Court) beginning in June 2016 and also fought her appeal to the Ninth Circuit (16-16688), which was ruled on in July 2017. Ultimately, the military spouse prevailed in both prior cases, but the US Navy & their corporate housing partner filed the defamation lawsuit shortly after her attorneys filed a Motion for Attorneys Fees & Costs on January 26, 2018.

In February and March 2019, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) held two (2) hearings about unsafe housing conditions and brazen retaliation that public-private ventures (PPVs) between US military services and their corporate housing partners were pursuing against military family residents, like this military spouse. These Congressional hearings vindicated the military spouse, as they confirmed that her statements about unsafe housing conditions at US bases were true.

Moreover, the SASC applauded her and other military spouses who braved enormous risks to report unsafe housing conditions, fraudulent activities and/or unlawful retaliation occurring in privatized military housing at US bases to Congress. To my knowledge, she is the only military spouse who was subjected to years of what appear to be unlawful or certainly unconstitutional defamation claims by the US government in both federal and appellate courts.

Although the military spouse should've dominated and defeated in all of these cases, shortly after these Congressional hearings in early 2019, she was forced under duress to resolve the matter and keep it quiet, likely to prevent this travesty and wrongdoing of the federal government from becoming public knowledge. But, all of this information is available via public court records, FOIA records & Congressional hearings and/or her written testimony for the same.

Both the SASC & HASC just recently held even more hearings about unacceptable and often unsafe housing conditions at US bases on December 3 & 5, 2019, respectively. Earlier hearings were on February 13, 2019 (SASC), March 7, 2019 (SASC) and April 4, 2019 (HASC).

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