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Hajrija Čobo rejects the withdrawal of defamation lawsuit by mining company and seeks full compensation

Status: 
Judicial Harassment
About the situation

On 25 June 2024, the preliminary hearing regarding the defamation lawsuit filed by British mining company Adriatic Metals BH d.o.o. against environmental rights defender Hajrija Čobo will take place at the Kakanj Municipal Court. The hearing will proceed against the fact that the company wanted to withdraw the lawsuit and the compensation for damages because Hajrija Čobo did not consent to the withdrawal and wanted to settle at court.

On 11 January 2024, the woman human rights defender Hajrija Čobo submitted her defense to the court on a case of defamation lawsuit filed by the British mining company Adriatic Metals BH d.o.o. The company accuses the woman human rights defender of spreading false information about the company in the media and through her social media network, and demands compensation for the damage to the company’s reputation.

About Hajrija Čobo

Hajrija Čobo is a woman environmental rights defender from Kakanj and a representative of NGG Park prirode Trstionica i Boriva, an informal grassroots group of local activists who campaign to protect their forests and rivers which are their main source of drinking water. An elementary and secondary school teacher by profession, Hajrija Čobo fights against corruption and the destruction of the environment in her country. The environmental rights defender speaks out to raise awareness on the consequences of mining in her hometown Kakanj including deforestation, pollution of the environment and natural watercourses in the region, but also of the health risks posed by the extraction of minerals with heavy metals and carcinogenic elements.

11 June 2024
Hajrija Čobo rejects the withdrawal of defamation lawsuit by mining company and seeks full compensation

On 25 June 2024, the preliminary hearing regarding the defamation lawsuit filed by British mining company Adriatic Metals BH d.o.o. against environmental rights defender Hajrija Čobo will take place at the Kakanj Municipal Court. The hearing will proceed against the fact that the company wanted to withdraw the lawsuit and the compensation for damages because Hajrija Čobo did not consent to the withdrawal and wanted to settle at court.

Hajrija Čobo is a woman environmental rights defender from Kakanj and a representative of Park prirode Trstionica i Boriva, an informal grassroots group of local activists who campaign to protect their forests and rivers which are their main source of drinking water. An elementary and secondary school teacher by profession, Hajrija Čobo fights against corruption and the destruction of the environment in her country and speaks out to raise awareness on the threats posed by the Adriatic Metals’ ore exploration and exploitation in her home town Kakanj.

On 26 April 2024, British mining company Adriatic Metals BH d.o.o. submitted a letter to the Kakanj Municipal Court, informing that they are willing to withdraw the lawsuit against woman environmental rights defender Hajrija Čobo. The mining company had filed the defamation lawsuit in December 2023, alleging that the woman human rights defender was spreading false information about the company in the media and through her social media network. The company demanded 2,000 KM (approximately 1000€) compensation for non-pecuniary damages. The withdrawal was made on the basis of Article 59 of the Law on Civil Procedure, which states that the plaintiff may withdraw the action before the conclusion of the main hearing, if the defendant agrees.

On 9 May 2024, the Kakanj Municipal Court informed the human rights defender in writing that the plaintiff withdrew its lawsuit, and asked her to declare whether she agrees to the withdrawal within eight days. On 16 May 2024, Hajrija Čobo informed the court that she rejected the withdrawal of the mining company’s defamation lawsuit. In her letter, she stated that the plaintiff should waive its claim and the judgement should be made in accordance with Article 181(2) of the Law on Civil Procedure, and that her legal expenses should be fully compensated.

Hajrija Čobo told Front Line Defenders the following when commenting on her decision: “They can't call me a 'quasi-activist' and a “liar” and then simply give up. Withdrawal means they can reactivate it anytime, aim to silence me forever. They should drop the case and pay the expenses, ensuring a verdict that prevents future defamation suits against me or anyone else speaking out. I am doing this to ensure freedom of speech for everyone, not just myself. This is an opportunity."

17 January 2024
Woman Environmental Rights Defender Hajrija Čobo facing defamation lawsuit

On 11 January 2024, the woman human rights defender Hajrija Čobo submitted her defense to the court on a case of defamation lawsuit filed by the British mining company Adriatic Metals BH d.o.o. The company accuses the woman human rights defender of spreading false information about the company in the media and through her social media network, and demands compensation for the damage to the company’s reputation.

Download the Urgent Appeal

Hajrija Čobo is a woman environmental rights defender from Kakanj and a representative of NGG Park prirode Trstionica i Boriva, an informal grassroots group of local activists who campaign to protect their forests and rivers which are their main source of drinking water. An elementary and secondary school teacher by profession, Hajrija Čobo fights against corruption and the destruction of the environment in her country. The environmental rights defender speaks out to raise awareness on the consequences of mining in her hometown Kakanj including deforestation, pollution of the environment and natural watercourses in the region, but also of the health risks posed by the extraction of minerals with heavy metals and carcinogenic elements.

On 12 December 2023, woman environmental rights defender received a notice of a defamation lawsuit filed by the British mining company Adriatic Metals BH d.o.o. which was awarded a concession for exploration and extraction of ores in the Vareš region of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The company accuses the woman human rights defender of spreading false information about the company in the media and through her social network, and demands compensation for the damage to the company’s reputation. The lawsuit which bears characteristics of a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) was a direct response to her campaigning to protect the forest and watercourses in the Kakanj region against the threats posed by the company’s ore exploration and exploitation. The company demands compensation of 2,000 KM (approximately 1,000€) for non-material damages.

The woman human rights defender together with the Park prirode Trstionica i Boriva group has been advocating for the protection of the forests and riverbeds since May 2022, when she first found out that a concrete plant was illegally built in Mehoric, near the mine area. Upon her complaint to the authorities, an inspection was carried out which found that the building was constructed without the necessary permissions, and the local subcontractor company Trgošped was fined. The building was demolished shortly after and although the Adriatic Metals management promised to get the area restored, there hasn’t been any improvement on the restoration work. On the contrary, the contracting company continued to cut trees and dig out the soil to open a road for the trucks to drive to the mining area, dumping all debris to the banks of the Boriva and Trstionica rivers, narrowing the flow of water stream as well as polluting it.

On 4 October 2023, Adriatic Metals sent the environmental rights defender a formal request to publish a denial “in order to reduce the damage caused by defamation and damage to the reputation, and to inform the public correctly”, according to the Article 8 of the Law on Protection against Defamation of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The company referred to several news reports where Hajrija Čobo warned the public about potential risks of discharging heavy metals into the groundwater and the current health problems posed by the polluted water such as skin irritations, sores and rashes, requesting her to correct the allegedly false information within 24 hours upon receipt of the request. In response, Hajrija Čobo repeated how the water contamination affected the citizens in Kakanj. The defamation lawsuit was initiated several days later.

According to the woman environmental rights defender, in July 2022, right after a public consultation meeting organised by the mining company where she was very outspoken about the activities of the company, staff from the sustainability department of Adriatic Metal approached her and offered funds for any environmental project that she or the group would want to run. This was apparently an attempt to silence her. Hajrija Čobo and the Park prirode Trstionica i Boriva group kept raising attention of the public and the country authorities on the deforestation, pollution and habitat loss as a result of the mining activities through formal complaints as well as publishing videos and reports on social media networks and staging protest.

Since June 2022, after she exposed the illegal construction in Mehoric, the woman environmental rights defender started receiving threats both on her social media posts and on her phone, as well as in-person “friendly” warnings from local individuals who approached her to warn that she needed to be careful as someone would kill her. In March 2023 the threats ceased after the police intervened and called in the owner of a threat message for questioning.

Front Line Defenders expresses its concern about the lawsuit initiated against Hajrija Čobo that has the characteristics of SLAPP, which has increasingly become a repression tool to intimidate and silence human rights defenders and journalist who speak truth to power. The organisation believes that human rights defenders need to be protected from SLAPP in order to fulfil Bosnia and Herzegovina’s duty to ensure a safe environment where all human rights defenders can work without fear of reprisals and intimidation.

Front Line Defenders calls the Adriatic Metals BH d.o.o to:

  1. Immediately withdraw the lawsuit you initiated against the woman human rights defender Hajrija Čobo.

Front Line Defenders calls the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina to:

  1. Dismiss the court proceedings against Hajrija Čobo, as the lawsuit has the characteristics of SLAPP and targets the woman human rights defender for her legitimate and peaceful human rights work;
  2. Ensure that the courts have the necessary legal instruments to tackle SLAPPs that aim to silence critical voices, including those of human rights defenders;
  3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders and their organisations in Bosnia and Herzegovina are able to carry out their human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions, in line with Bosnia and Herzegovina’s international human rights obligations and commitments.