Palm oil and timber group Korindo sues to silence environmentalists

Aerial view: clearing forest for Korindo oil palm plantations in Papua Cleared forest for a Korindo oil palm plantation in Papua (© Mighty)

Trial opening at Hamburg Regional Court on Friday, January 22.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Hamburg, Germany — Hamburg-based NGO Rettet den Regenwald (Rainforest Rescue) and the Center for International Policy (CIP) from the USA are facing a defamation lawsuit before the Hamburg Regional Court. The lawsuit was prompted by a letter to Siemens and Nordex that ten environmental NGOs signed in October 2016 – more than four years ago. The letter was intended to alert the companies to the extensive destruction of the rainforest by Korindo, a Korean-Indonesian conglomerate that produces palm oil, timber and wind turbines. The plaintiff, which claims to be part of the Korindo group of companies, doubts the truthfulness of some of the allegations, demands their retraction and, in case of repetition, the imposition of heavy fines or even imprisonment.

“The destruction of the rainforests is one of the greatest environmental crimes of our time. But instead of prosecuting the perpetrators, courts are increasingly being used to harass and silence environmentalists,” said Rettet den Regenwald Co-Chair Bettina Behrend. “Our democracy is being turned upside down and the rule of law is being abused. But we will not be intimidated and will continue to speak out for those bearing the burden of environmental destruction.”

In the study “Burning Paradise” by the NGO Mighty Earth, as well as numerous other studies and reports, Korindo is accused of the wholesale destruction of rainforests and violating the rights of indigenous peoples in the Indonesian provinces of Papua and North Moluccas. The BBC also recently reported on the issue.

“This lawsuit is a classic dirty corporate strategy. In the face of mounting revelations about its massive rainforest destruction and abuse of Indigenous rights, Korindo is using this lawsuit to try to intimidate and silence NGOs, journalists, and activists from exposing its wrongdoing,” said Deborah Lapidus, Vice President of Mighty Earth. “But this is a grave miscalculation as it further exposes Korindo’s sinister approach and its continued denial of the harms it’s caused.”

The case is a textbook example of a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP), a move in which companies and powerful individuals use the courts to limit public participation and stifle criticism. SLAPP suits are a threat to organizations and activists that investigate issues in the service of the public good, name those responsible and campaign for the environment and human rights. Such suits are thus attacks on fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and assembly, and ultimately on our democracy.

SLAPP suits are a worldwide trend, and they are becoming increasingly common in Europe. For example, Umweltinstitut München, a Munich-based environmental NGO, is currently being sued for criticizing the use of pesticides on South Tyrolean orchards in Bolzano, Italy. The French Bolloré group has sued the organization ReAct for speaking out against human rights violations on plantations in Africa. The Austrian timber company Schweighofer has taken action against the Romanian NGO Neuer Weg, while the finance-industry monitor BankTrack has been taken to court in the United States because of its protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

More than 90 organizations from Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa are backing Rainforest Rescue with a declaration of solidarity that states: 

Anyone who maliciously sues activists and organizations who are working for social progress and to protect nature is attacking us all.

The fact that an Indonesian company is suing a German and a US organization before a regional court in Hamburg reflects the common SLAPP strategy of “jurisdiction shopping”: Germany is considered by legal experts to be one of the countries in the EU where national laws and court rulings favor unfounded defamation suits. Courts in Italy and Malta are currently tied up with a particularly large number of SLAPP suits. The investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia had 47 SLAPP cases pending against her in Malta at the time of her murder.

There is a growing public awareness that such cases must be dealt with at the international level. European Commission Vice President Věra Jourová has pledged to look at all options to counter the threat to democracy posed by SLAPPs. A coalition of 87 journalists and civil society organizations – including Rainforest Rescue and Mighty Earth – has called on the European Union to take action against SLAPP suits at European level.

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For further information, interviews and images, please contact 

Dr. Bettina Behrend, Co-Chair, Rettet den Regenwald, phone: +49 (40) 410 380 41

Marianne Klute, Co-Chair, Rettet den Regenwald, Indonesia expert, phone: +49 (40) 410 380 48

If you have any questions related specifically to SLAPP, we would be pleased to put you in touch with our media lawyer, Prof. Roger Mann in Hamburg, Germany.

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THE DECLARATION OF SOLIDARITY IN FULL:

"We will not be intimidated or silenced!

The destruction of the rainforests is one of the greatest environmental crimes of our time. But instead of prosecuting the perpetrators, courts are increasingly being used to harass environmentalists.

Rettet den Regenwald e.V. (Rainforest Rescue) is currently being sued before the District Court of Hamburg, Germany.

In 2016, Rettet den Regenwald and nine other NGOs had sent a letter to the companies Siemens and Nordex informing them that they have business relationships with a conglomerate in Indonesia that stands accused of clearing forest for oil palm plantations and threatening indigenous people. It is with reference to this letter that Rettet den Regenwald is now being sued by a third party.

In our opinion, this lawsuit is an effort to intimidate and and silence environmentalists.

We see this case as a textbook example of a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP), a move in which companies and powerful individuals use the courts to limit public participation and stifle criticism. SLAPP suits are a threat to organizations and activists that investigate issues in the service of the public good, name those responsible, and campaign for the environment and human rights. They are therefore an attack on democracy and an effort to hinder the work of civil society, because:

  • instead of working to protect rainforests against destruction by corporations, environmentalists must sacrifice valuable time to defend themselves
  • mounting a legal defense costs money that would be better spent on rainforest protection and partner projects in countries of the global South
  • the case could have a chilling effect and lead to self-censorship by environmentalists to avoid further lawsuits in other campaigns.

This lawsuit is therefore detrimental to the rainforests and the people who live there.

We, the undersigned organizations, declare our solidarity with Rettet den Regenwald e.V.

Anyone who maliciously sues activists and organizations who are working for social progress and to protect nature is attacking us all."

SUPPORTING ORGANIZATIONS:

  • Acción Ecológica, Ecuador
  • Africando, Spain
  • Ajele Sunday, Nigeria
  • Amazon Watch, USA
  • Les Amis de la Terre France, France
  • Amigos de la Tierra, Spain
  • Animals Are Sentient Beings, Inc., USA
  • ARA – Aktionsgemeinschaft Regenwald und Artenschutz, Germany
  • BankTrack, Netherlands
  • Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe e. V., Germany
  • Bergwaldprojekt e.V., Germany
  • biofuelwatch, UK/USA
  • Blue Dalian, China
  • Bomenstichting Achterhoek (regional Dutch Tree Foundation), Netherlands
  • Borneo Institute, Indonesia
  • BOS Deutschland, Germany
  • Bread for all, Switzerland
  • Bruno-Manser-Fond, Switzerland
  • CALG, Philippines
  • Cambodia Human Rights Task Force (CHRTF), Cambodia
  • Centre for Man and Land Resources Development (CEMLARD), Nigeria
  • Colectivo VientoSur, Chile
  • Colectivo Voces Ecológicas (COVEC), Panama
  • Collectif Or de question, France
  • Conservation Congress, USA
  • Defensa y Conservación Ecológica de Intag (DECOIN), Ecuador
  • denkhausbremen e.V., Germany
  • Deutsche Umwelthilfe e.V., Germany
  • Devcon, Nigeria
  • Earth Action, USA
  • Ecodevelop, Germany
  • Eco-Guards, Nigeria
  • Ecologistas en Acción, Spain
  • Environmental Paper Network, international
  • Family Farm Defenders, USA
  • FIAN Deutschland, Germany
  • Flight – Protecting Indonesia’s Birds, Indonesia
  • Forum Ökologie und Papier, Germany
  • Forum Umwelt und Entwicklung, Germany
  • Friends of the Siberian Forests, Russia
  • Fundación Tantí, Chile
  • The Gaia Foundation, UK
  • Global Forest Coalition, international
  • Global Justice Ecology Project, USA
  • GMO Science, USA
  • GMO/Toxin Free , USA
  • GMWatch, USA
  • GRAIN, international
  • Green Advocates, Alfred Brownell, Goldman Environmental Prize Winner 2019, Liberia
  • Green Longjiang, China
  • Greenpeace Africa, international
  • Greenpeace European unit, EU
  • Greenpeace Indonesia, Indonesia
  • ICRA International, France
  • Inspirit, international
  • JATAM Sulawesi Tengah, Indonesia
  • JPIC Kalimantan (Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation), Indonesia
  • Kene, Peru
  • Last Tree Laws, USA
  • Link AR Borneo, Indonesia
  • Maïouri Nature Guyane (MNG), France
  • Milieudefensie / FoE Netherlands, Netherlands
  • Mother Nature, Cambodia
  • Movimiento por el Agua y los Territorios MAT, Chile
  • NAPE, Uganda
  • Not1More, UK
  • The Oakland Institute, USA
  • Observatorio Minero Ambiental y Social del Norte del Ecuador OMASNE, Ecuador
  • Orang Utan in Not e.V., Germany
  • Otros Mundos Chiapas, Mexico
  • Ouch Leng, Goldman Environmental Prize Winner 2016, Cambodia
  • Pageos.net, Indonesia
  • Profundo, Netherlands
  • Protect the Forest, Sweden
  • Rainforest Action Network (RAN), international
  • Rainforest Rescue, Australia
  • React, France
  • Rivers Without Boundaries Coalition, international
  • Robin Wood, Germany
  • Save Our Borneo, Indonesia
  • Scholar Tree Alliance, China
  • Sierra Club BC, Canada
  • Snow Alliance, China
  • SystExt, France
  • Tabio (Tanzania Alliance for Biodiversity), Tanzania
  • Tapol, UK
  • Teraju Indonesia Foundation, Indonesia
  • Umweltinstitut München e.V., Germany
  • Verdegaia, Spain
  • WatchDoc, Indonesia
  • WALHI North Sumatra (FoE), Indonesia
  • WALHI NTT (FoE Eastern  Sunda Islands), Indonesia
  • WALHI Papua (FoE Papua Province), Indonesia
  • WALHI South Sulawesi (FoE), Indonesia
  • Weltfriedensdienst, Germany
  • World Rainforest Movement, international
  • Yayasan Orangutan Sumatera Lestari (Orangutan Information Centre YOSL-OIC), Indonesia
  • Yayasan Pusaka Bentala Rakyat, Indonesia
  • Zukunftsstiftung Entwicklung in der GLS Treuhand e.V., Germany
  • Cadman, Tim BA, Earth Systems Governance Project, Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law, Griffith University

  • Hackfort Dr., Sarah; Thaer-Institute, Humboldt Universität Berlin

  • Newman, Stuart A. Ph.D. Prof. Cell Biology & Anatomy

  • Paul, Helena; Environmental Defender