Environment

Small hydropower plant owner sues activist Shpresa Loshaj in Kosovo* for defamation

Small hydropower owner sues activist Shpresa Loshaj Kosovo defamation

Photo: Shpresa Loshaj at Zalli i Rupës (Visar Alimehaj)

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February 22, 2021

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Published:

February 22, 2021

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Shpresa Loshaj from the Pishtarët movement said she would respond to a lawsuit by KelKos, which demanded EUR 100,000 for defamation after she pointed to environmental degradation from its projects in Kosovo*. The subsidiary of Kelag-Kärntner Elektrizitäts operates four small hydropower plants.

There is plenty of evidence in videos and photos as well as in witness accounts to show the destruction that KelKos caused by building its controversial small hydropower plants, Shpresa Loshaj told Balkan Green Energy News after the company went to court over her allegations. She is pictured here at Zalli i Rupës, at a location where the firm dug gravel several years ago.

She said the subsidiary of Kelag-Kärntner Elektrizitäts from Austria launched a SLAPP lawsuit, where the acronym stands for strategic litigation against public participation. The activist from the Pishtarët environmentalist movement said the hydropower plant operator demands EUR 100,000 in damages. Pishtarët means torch.

Last year it sued Adriatik Gacaferi, an activist from Deçan, or Dečani, for EUR 10,000. At the time, the move was criticized by nongovernmental organizations and even member of the Committee for Foreign Affairs and Standing Rapporteur of the European Parliament for Kosovo* Viola von Cramon-Taubadel.

Small hydropower sues activist Shpresa Loshaj Kosovo defamation
Photo: Small hydropower plant Lumbardhi 2 (Shpresa Loshaj)

A fraction of violations

“We have uncovered only a fraction of their violations. The visible degradation is one part, but the damage to our public institutions is irreparable and I am afraid that it will take decades to revive,” Loshaj stated and accused government institutions of making decisions with regard to KelKos “in the dark, without any public participation.”

The firm has “a lot to fear and cover,” and that is why it is “resorting to extreme measures,” she stressed and added the investor is trying to “silence” her “and prevent others from talking.” According to Loshaj, KelKos sued because she wrote on Facebook, spoke to the media and even because she contacted the Energy Regulatory Office (ERO) and the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning.

Barriers for public participation

“For example, when they apply for a licence, they have obligations to notify the public and wait eight days for responses. In November 2020 they got their licences from ERO but KelKos nor ERO never made their application public and they didn’t even bother to explain why. That alone tells a lot how KelKos respects us and our laws,” she asserted and revealed she would respond to the lawsuit.

KelKos sued local activist Adriatik Gacaferi last year for EUR 10,000

Loshaj said the company’s contract with the municipality is “kept hidden so people of Deçan cannot benefit anything” and that the ministry and the municipality publicly backed KelKos and not the activists. “The support that we are getting is absolutely amazing and inspiring because although our institutions have completely failed us, people are still able to unite and protect the environment and each other and this gives us hope for Kosovo’s future,” she underscored.

Damage remains

Earlier, activist groups sued as the company didn’t fulfil its obligation to rehabilitate the damage that it has done to the Lumbardhi river, also called Pećka Bistrica, so the court ordered the operation of two hydropower plants to be halted in December, but ERO reversed the decision, Loshaj said. The parliamentary committee responsible for the inquiry uncovered many irregularities, she claimed.

KelKos owns four hydropower plants in Kosovo’s west: Lumbardhi 1 (8 MW), Lumbardhi 2 (7 MW), Belaja (7.5 MW) and Deçani (9.5 MW).

Ombudsperson flagged irregularities

In a report that the issued this month, Ombudsperson Naim Qelaj pointed to “uncertainty regarding the legality of the operation of hydropower plants, as a result of lack of transparency and accountability of the competent bodies.” While the dissatisfaction and reactions of citizens and civil society have increased, the authorities have never managed to provide clear explanations with regard to the legality of hydropower plants operation,” the document reads.

Local Albanians and Serbs protested together against hydropower projects in Štrpce

In the recommendation, the official said the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning and the municipalities of Deçan and  Shtërpcë – Štrpce should make all the documentation public. According to Qelaj, the authorities need to give priority to the cases concerning the hydropower plants.

Dobrivoje Stevanović from Štrpce filed the first of the complaints that triggered the inquiry, on behalf of 1,200 other inhabitants of the area where Matkos was building small hydropower plants. The dispute united the local ethnic Serb and Albanian communities against environmental devastation. Qelaj urged the government to respect human rights and the right of the people to participate in decision making and to access to justice.

* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status and is in line with UNSCR 1244/99 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.

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