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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Environmental activism under threat in Malaysia

On the eve of the October 10-18 global ‘Reclaim Power’ week, Friends of the Earth Malaysia and Friends of the Earth International urged the Malaysian government to cancel its plans for 12 unnecessary and damaging large dams.

Jagoda Munic
Jagoda Munic

If the Malaysian government goes ahead with its plan to build these large dams in the state of Sarawak, the local environment and the lives and livelihoods of thousands of local people will be affected: not only those who would lose their homes and be forcefully relocated, but also all downstream communities.

The Malaysian government and powerful corporations are suppressing environmental and human rights protests by resorting to arbitrary detentions and defamation law, according to Friends of the Earth International.

“This year the Malaysian government arrested and intimidated more than a dozen citizens struggling to have their environmental and human rights respected. The Malaysian government should listen to citizens who express concerns over environmental problems instead of cracking down on them. Powerful corporations on the other hand appear to be resorting to legal suits which may be intended to stifle freedom of expression,” said Jagoda Munic, chairperson of the Friends of the Earth International federation.

On 22-26 September, a delegation from Friends of the Earth International visited Malaysia to take stock of the situation of environmental rights defenders and to express solidarity with individuals and communities affected by environmental and human rights violations.

The delegation met with Malaysians opposed to Australian rare earth miner Lynas Corporation.

Over the past three years there has been massive opposition in Malaysia to Australian rare earth miner Lynas Corporation building the world’s largest rare earth refinery in Kuantan: the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) has become one of the largest environmental issues in Malaysian history.

Friends of the Earth International supports the 1.2 million Malaysians who have signed the petition demanding Lynas to shut down the plant, clean up its waste and leave Malaysia.

Lynas has not sufficiently addressed its obligations. Major problems include a total lack of effective community consultation, a deeply flawed Preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment and operating without a permanent waste disposal facility despite highly toxic waste including radioactive thorium.

Friends of the Earth International also stands in solidarity with the 15 Malaysian citizens arrested on the 22nd June 2014 outside the LAMP and demands for all criminal charges to be dropped.

The Friends of the Earth international delegation also met with community members from Bukit Koman in Pahang, where many people began to suffer various skin, eye and respiratory problems after a gold mining company began operations.

A civil case brought by the community against the Malaysian Department of the Environment and the gold mining company Raub Australian Gold Mining Sdn Bhd (RAGM) requesting a new Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment was met with defeat at all stages from the High Court to the Federal Court (the highest court).

In 2013 RAGM brought defamation suits against three community leaders in reaction to statements made to the press.

Friends of the Earth International calls for a full, independent and impartial investigation into the cause of the communities’ health problems; findings of which must be acted upon in consultation with them. Findings of all or any previous investigation must be released to the community.

Friends of the Earth International believes that if the Malaysian government wants to contribute to a better future for all its citizens it should start supporting the struggle of environmental rights defenders and protect and respect them, instead of criminalising environmental activism.

In addition, the government must ensure that any corporations responsible for environmental or human rights violations are held accountable for their actions.

A legally binding system to guarantee access to justice for affected communities and environmental defenders must be put in place.

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