McLibel’ Strikes Again: Croatian State Company Sues Forest Activist

Case Study
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The CASE Coalition has classified a lawsuit initiated by Hrvatske šume d.o.o. against Vesna Grgić as a SLAPP. Hrvatske šume d.o.o. (Croatian Forests Ltd, CFL) is a state-owned company managing forests and forest land owned by the Republic of Croatia. The company has issued three private prosecutions for criminal defamation against Vesna Grgić, the leader and spokesperson for the Green Squad, a section of VIDRA, a non-political, independent, non-governmental, and non-profit veterans’ association.

Vesna Grgić is a seasoned environmental activist and heads the Green Squad, a group that advocates against massive deforestation in Croatia. Since 2018, the Green Squad has been tirelessly working to expose and stop what they call an ‘organised devastation of Croatian forests’. Their investigations have expanded to include forest, water, and waste management in Croatia. They conduct field investigations and publish documents proving illegal activities, irregularities, and the lack of transparency within institutions responsible for managing Croatian natural resources. They maintain an extensive archive of photos, video footage, and reports that support their public statements about the scale of deforestation in Croatia. 

Vesna Grgić has long been a vocal critic of CFL’s operations, highlighting the harm the company does to the environment in Croatia. She has accused CFL of engaging in ‘criminal activities’.

In our view, a state-owned company bringing three private prosecutions against an individual activist is an unnecessary and disproportionate measure, especially given the numerous other options available to challenge the criticism without resorting to criminal speech prosecution. Additionally, the company decided to initiate three separate proceedings despite significant duplication in the subject matter, evidence, and witnesses, which led the court to consolidate all three proceedings. CFL presumably has easy access to other means than litigation to address any perceived wrongs. 

There is a clear imbalance of power in terms of the financial positions and resources available to the parties. Though CFL does not seek any compensation, they propose that for each indictment, Vesna Grgić be punished with a fine equivalent to €500 of the average daily personal income in Croatia. Based on a simple calculation, the costs could amount to around €57,000, excluding court costs, expert fees, and the legal representation of the prosecutor.

CASE finds that this lawsuit bears a stark resemblance to the infamous ‘McLibel case’, where McDonald’s sued two Greenpeace activists in the UK, resulting in the longest civil trial in British history.

Join us in rallying public support for Vesna and denouncing mounting attempts to silence environmental activists who stand up to big companies and corporations.


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