SLAPP lawsuit against Rainforest Rescue struck down

Graphic: SLAPP suits are intended to silence critics SLAPP suits are intended to silence critics (© Umweltinstitut München e.V.)

Feb 21, 2023

After more than three years, a lawsuit filed against Rainforest Rescue before the Regional Court in Hamburg, Germany, has ended – not with a bang but with a whimper. We had been sued by Korindo, an Indonesian conglomerate heavily invested in the palm oil industry, for criticizing rainforest destruction in Papua province.

Formally, the lawsuit had been filed by Kenertec, an Indonesian company that identifies itself as part of the Korindo Group; the Group itself never denied being the driving force behind the suit.

In the end, the plaintiff dropped all claims in a settlement proposed by the court and agreed to pay three-quarters of the litigation costs. 

Kenertec had demanded that we, and our partners in the US NGO Mighty Earth, revoke statements on the use of bulldozers and fire in connection with the clearing of rainforest, and refrain from repeating them in the future. However, the court had made it clear early on that the claims for revocation had no chance of success. Finally, as a hint to the plaintiff company, the judges indicated that the lawsuit could be dismissed in its entirety and encouraged the settlement, by which the Indonesian company waived all claims arising from the offending letter.

“For three years, this lawsuit kept us busy and wasted valuable time. It was a David versus Goliath battle. It speaks volumes that Korindo was not able to enforce any of its demands,” says Bettina Behrend, First Chair of Rainforest Rescue. “We see this as an abusive lawsuit intended to intimidate us and have a chilling effect on other organizations. It’s a good thing that Korindo did not succeed with this.”

“The case meets several criteria of an abusive suit, which the European Commission seeks to combat with a directive proposed last year. During the proceedings, the Hamburg court considered having to question witnesses in Indonesia. It’s good that the targeted NGOs can now return to their actual work, but the fundamental problem of such lawsuits remains,” says Roger Mann, attorney and professor of media law at the University of Göttingen, who represented us.

Rainforest destruction in Indonesia criticized

Marianne Klute, Rainforest Rescue Co-Chair and Indonesia expert: “Korindo is one of the companies to blame for much of the deforestation in Indonesia. Partly because of this lawsuit, we have been reporting in even greater depth on rainforest destruction in Papua Province. If it had been Korindo’s intention to silence us, they achieved quite the opposite. We have the backs of the people of Indonesia so that they too can stand up to Korindo and defend their rainforest against the conglomerate.”

Petition with 216,620 signatures – EU directive against abusive lawsuits

After being apprised of the lawsuit, we helped organize an international movement against abusive lawsuits and was one of the first members of the Europe-wide alliance against SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation), CASE. In 2021, CASE awarded Korindo the title “International Bully of the Year”.

A joint petition against abusive lawsuits by Rainforest Rescue, Umweltinstitut München e.V. and Sumofus was signed by 216,620 supporters. Vice President of the European Commission Věra Jourová accepted the petition personally in Brussels and presented a draft directive against SLAPPs, which should make lawsuits like these more difficult.

Worldwide solidarity

The abusive lawsuit made waves internationally. More than 90 environmental and human rights organizations from Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia  declared their solidarity with us: “Anyone who maliciously sues activists and organizations who are working for social progress and to protect nature is attacking us all.”

Kenertec’s lawsuit was received by the Hamburg Regional Court on Dec. 20, 2019, shortly before the statute of limitations expired. Proceedings began on January 22, 2021. By settlement decision of the court dated February 21, 2023, the proceedings have now been terminated.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Stay in the loop on rainforest conservation issues with our free newsletter!