Saturday, August 31, 2013

Court to decide in Formosa Plastics Lawsuit against Environmental Researcher

Nature has a write-up of the coming court decision in the case of the scientist sued by a big company for reporting on what it was doing to the environment.
A Taiwanese court will rule on 4 September in a libel lawsuit filed by a petrochemical company against an environmental engineer whose studies had suggested that a plant operated by the company was causing higher cancer rates in its vicinity.

In December 2010 Ben-Jei Tsuang, an environmental engineer at Taiwan’s National Chung Hsing University in Taichung, presented evidence of increased cancer rates in residents living near a Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) hydrocarbon-processing facility in Mailao, Taiwan, at a scientific meeting. He also presented evidence in a press conference in November 2011.

In April 2012, FPG sued Tsuang for defamation, demanding that he pay US$1.3 million in damages and that he publicly apologize by publishing a statement in four major newspapers.

In the trial, which had its final hearing today at the Taipei District Court, Tsuang’s lawyers framed the case as a “strategic lawsuit against public participation”. An open letter signed by 1,000 academics, including chemistry Nobel laureate Lee Yuan Tseh, expressed support for Tsuang.
The island's prosecutors, ever ready to strike a blow for truth and freedom, at one point threatened to indict Dr. Tsuang, but you can imagine what a chilling effect the lawsuit and the threatened indictment have had on reporting of environmental issues in Taiwan. Commendably, the prosecutor's own report noted that prosecuting and suing academics was likely to have a chilling effect on research in Taiwan. Yet, the government acts from time to time against environmentalists, often in ham-handed ways, like the time the Hsinchu city government examined the visa of a local foreign professor over environmental remarks.

Wild at Heart, the local environmental group, has a full write up of the case here.

The Mailiao complex seen the from wetlands in Changhua to the north.

The complex has made someone lots of money via government subsidized water, electricity, raw materials, and land development, but the Yunlin County government has complained bitterly about the company's string of broken promises. One can only imagine what a disaster I-lan would be now if it had taken the plant as originally planned (see this)...
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