Amnesty International is urging a company operating hydropower plants in a protected natural area in western Kosovo to withdraw “baseless” defamation lawsuits against two local environmental activists.
“Shpresa Loshaj and Adriatik Gacaferi have campaigned tirelessly to raise concerns about the environmental impact of hydropower plants in the protected Decan region,” Jelena Sesar, Western Balkans researcher at the London-based human rights watchdog, said in a statement on June 28.
“These activists are bravely standing up for their communities and their environment, and Kelkos Energy’s lawsuits appear to be a cynical attempt to silence them.”
Kelkos Energy is a subsidiary of the Austria-based public energy provider Kelag International.
Loshaj and Gacaferi have used social media and television appearances to raise concerns about the environmental impact of the company’s hydropower plants, according to Amnesty International. The activists also questioned the legality of the operating licenses that were issued by the Kosovar authorities to Kelkos Energy and other companies.
Last year, Kelkos Energy filed a defamation lawsuit against Loshaj and asked for 100,000 euros ($119,331) for “reputational damages” caused by her public campaigning against the company’s operations in the Decan region, Amnesty International said. The company also demanded that the activist publicly retract and apologize for her statement and refrain from stating “untrue facts” about the company in the future.
In a similar lawsuit, Kelkos Energy demanded 10,000 euros in reputational damages from Gacaferi over a Facebook post that criticized the company’s hydropower plant operations. Kelkos Energy demanded that the activist remove the contested post and publish a retraction.
Kelkos Energy told Amnesty International that the lawsuits are means to protect the company against “factual statements that are demonstrably wrong.” It said it operates within the law and disputed claims that its hydropower plants have caused environmental degradation.
Both cases are pending in Kosovo's courts.
Sesar said that Kelkos Energy should withdraw the lawsuits, while Kosovar authorities must “ensure that environmental defenders can express their concerns without fear of reprisal.”
“These lawsuits illustrate the growing trend of powerful corporations and public officials misusing the justice system to intimidate human rights defenders, and shield themselves from public scrutiny,” Sesar said.