Dr. Ben-Jei Tsuang, a professor at the Department of Environmental Engineering in National Chun Hsing University [zh], is the latest victim of a defamation lawsuit brought on by a big corporation, the Formosa Plastic Group.
Increasingly, big corporations in Taiwan are using defamation lawsuits to silence activists and scholars. In fact, many legal experts suggest that the current criminal defamation law is in violation [zh] of international covenants.
Dr. Tsuang worked with a research team to evaluate the environmental impact of 66 factories in Taichung and Yunlin. His team found that heavy metals and dioxins were being released in to the air, close to the Formosa Plastic Group (FPG)'s Six Naphtha Cracking plant. Dr. Tsuang presented his findings at several expert conferences held by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.)
In response, two affiliates of FPG, Formosa Chemicals & Fiber Corporation and Mailiao Power Corporation, filed criminal charges at the Taipei District Prosecutor's office in early April, 2012, seeking NT$40 million (about USD1.33 million) in damages for defamation [zh, pdf].
Dr. Tsuang's findings are critical for several civil groups who have been advocating to stop the Kuokuang petrochemical project. In fact, these groups already won the battle, as later FPG failed to persuade any local government in Taiwan to approve their petrochemical project and decided that the project be moved out of Taiwan and relocated to Malaysia in May 2012.
With this in mind, Shih-Wei Lu, a lawyer who is assisting Dr. Tusang's defense team pointed out [zh] that the lawsuit is a ‘strategic lawsuit against public participation‘, in other words it is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.
Many scholars and civic groups are demanding the FPG to drop the case. A joint letter by several civil groups states [zh]:
Dr. Ming-Yi Wu from National Tsing-Hua University also wrote an article [zh] to support Dr. Tsuang:
Even though the Taipei District Prosecutor's Office pointed out that academic freedom is protected by Taiwan's constitution and decided to drop the charge in June 6, 2012, FPG applied to the High Court for an appeal.
Meanwhile, Dr. Tsuang is still facing the civil charge while the judge asked FPG to prepare more evidence for the next court session on September 20, 2012. To show their support and share information about the court case, Dr. Tsuang's students created a Facebook page [zh]: