LIVEBLOG FROM MALAYSIA: Campaign to shut down Australian toxic dumper Lynas

Poster for 622 Shut down Lynas action on June 22.

We are currently in Malaysia standing in solidarity with hundreds of thousands of Malaysians who vehemently oppose Australian rare earth miner, Lynas Corporation and their highly toxic and radioactive rare earth refinery plant near this city of 600,000 people.

On June 22 ("622" as the movement has tagged it) we will be standing with hundreds of Malaysians at the gates of the Lynas plant to shut it down. You may be following our reports on your smart phones and laptops but to be part of the push for renewables energies you need to be educated on rare earths and support this campaign.

* * *
Update June 23, 2.30am from Tully: I was finally able to see Natalie Lowrey and the other arrestees. Nat is doing ok and they all have been treated well. (This not mentioning the two in hospital). She will have to go to court in the morning, most likely will be charged with a breach of the her visa and may deported the next day.

MEDIA RELEASE JUNE 23:

Australian activist arrested with 15 others in Lynas protests

More than a 1000 people converged on the Lynas Corporations Advanced Material Plant (LAMP) in Kuantan Malaysia today, to send a strong message to the company to shut down its operations.

During the peaceful protest sixteen people were arrested, two activists were met with police force and were beaten, one remains in ICU in Kuantan hospital.

Australian resident and International mining campaigner Natalie Lowrey was also one of the arrestees. She has been held without being able to see a lawyer and may face deportation. On one allowed phone call from her cell she stated:

"I was arrested with a housewife, a chef, veterinarian, businessman, a retiree and ten others, these people are everyday people that have families in Kuantan and are concerned about their future generations. This type of toxic industry does destroy lives, as seen by Asian Rare Earths refinery in Bukit Merah."

Lowrey went on to say local people have every right to be concerned about their family’s health and their local environment, Malaysian lives are just as important as Australians.

Tully McIntyre rare earth campaigner said:

"The strong resistance against this plant will continue until Lynas closes it doors and leaves the country. Community consultation is key. The LAMP will generate radioactive waste from thorium and acidic waste streams, one of the biggest concerns is this Australian company still doesn’t have a waste management plan.

"This type of action sees global community building against unwanted corporations, ASIC should be ashamed to be endorsing companies that operate with no social license and fall back funds, especially when they are bordering on insolvency.

"Lynas Corporation should take the opportunity to follow its investors and pull out now."

For footage and photo's of the protest please contact via email

For media comment:

Tully McIntyre, +6 0149 316 641 (Malaysia), tully.mcintyre@foe.org.au

DOWNLOAD BACKGROUND BRIEFING

Update June 22, 7.30pm: The arrested Lynas blockaders have been take to the district police HQ in Kuantan and a group of protesters have followed them and have set up a protest outside (see photos below). However the police have now blocked off the road in front of the police HQ. The arrested are being interviewed by police now.

Meanwhile, a severely injured protester, Ho Kam Huat, is being treated for serious injuries in the hospital. It is reported by witnesses that police hit him on the head and kicked him over and over again. Photo by Keow Wee Loong below:

Breaking news: Green Left has just been informed by Keow Wee Loong, a Malaysian photographer on the scene that at about 4.45pm today, the blockade was violently dispersed and about 15 people have been arrested, including Wong Tack and our blogger Australian activist Natalie Lowrey. The photographer is heading off to the hospital now to check on the injured.

Natalie sent this message from the police truck: "I have been arrested with 15 Malaysians in our attempt to shut Lynas down. One man hurt badly by police, I am fine." Her pic of other arrested activists, including Wong Tack below.

Below this is Keow Wee Loong's exclusive photo of Wong Tack and other arrested activists been taken away in a police truck.


Above, earlier Keow Wee Loong challenging police to arrest him. Photo courtesy of Keow Wee Leong.

SHUT DOWN LYNAS DAY (June 22, 1.30pm on...):

The blockade is on. About 1000 people and 100 cars have come up to within 200 metres of the entrance of the Lynas plant. They are facing a police road block with about 200 police including the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) riot squad.

The feeling here is amazing. We heard several stirring speeches earlier (see pics below) and now there are negotiations with the police to let us in. We are not moving!

See a short video of the ongoing negotiations with the police here.

See short video of the beginning of the blockade here

See a short video of Isaiah Jacob who, despite being born with one leg, walked 300km from Kuala Lumpur to Kuantan in the past six days to join the blockade here.


Photo courtesy of PSM.


Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) riot squad on the scene. Photo courtesy of Keow Wee Loong.


Natalie Lowrey on the mic. Next to her is Tully McIntyre. Photo by Soh Sook Hwa.


"Only the people united can stop the Lynas" - PSM leader Arul's speech at Gebeng Stop Lynas. See video of this speech here.


The blockade. Photo by Tully McIntyre.


Hundreds of cars blocking the road to Lynas refinery. Photo by Tully McIntyre.


Wong Tack negotiating with police. Photo courtesy of Keow Wee Loong.

SHUT DOWN LYNAS DAY (June 22):

Getting ready!

With just a few hours to go to the blockade of Lynas, some snaps by Damian Baker below of the preparations.

DAY 5 (June 20):

Within 24 hours Lynas toxic and radioactive rare earth plant will be SHUT DOWN!! We hope you read and shared our blog about our visit to Ipoh and Bukit Merah yesterday where we met with Madame Lai Kwan and Mr Hew who fought against and shut down Asia Rare Earth (ARE) refinery in the 1980s and 1990s. It includes some photos of the current waste dump in Bukit Merah containing 80,000 x 208 litre drums-worth of radioactive thorium. There were no signs at the waste dump stating that there were any radioactive materials and it was very easy to get close to the site.

Special thanks to Ray and Viktor for looking after us all that day!

Ipoh originally famous for Tin mining at the turn of the 1900′s, the town is surrounded by lime stone mountains and is an old Chinese settlement, which has some really gorgeous buildings in the town and smaller townships surround Ipoh. In the early 1980’s it became famous for something else and thats why we wanted to travel here to talk to the people about a refinery that operated in their town from 1982 to 1994. In 1982 Asian Rare Earth (ARE) a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Chemicals opened a Rare earth refinery in Ipoh.

Madam Lai Kwan

We first met with Madam Lai Kwan who worked at ARE as a brick layer fell pregnant while working at the plant with her 8th child, when Lai Kwan gave birth to her son he was severely disabled Lai Kwan then spent the next decade of her life fighting ARE to shut down and leave her town. Lai and her son weren’t the only people affected by ARE operations in the Bukit Merah village. In 1985 a group of everyday people including Lai Kwan sued ARE on behalf of themselves and 10,000 other people in the community, they were able to initiate this legal process due to a significant rise in the incidence of leukaemia, infant deaths, congenital disease and lead poisoning in locals and more specifically children since the plant began operation.

The people finally won their battle with ARE and that wasn’t through the courts, it was due to public pressure within Malaysia, Japan and internationally. You can read more about the Bukit merah campaign here.

Mr Hew

Mr Hew, was also a plaintiff in the ARE case, he was one of the 106 people detained operation Lalang which took place on October 27th 1987 by the Malaysian police. He lead an extremely successful campaign in the community and now is one of a few people that are allowed access and monitor the ARE waste dump which contains 80,000 x 208 litre drums-worth of thorium. He believes that the waste dump is safer than it was but he still can’t say that it is completely safe for future generations. Mr Hew has been fighting for 30 years against ARE and the Malaysian Government. The waste could never be returned to Japan due to Internationally laws of exporting waste into Japan.

Third ARE waste dump site

ARE proposed the new dump plan in 2011 and began building it in the hills behind Ipoh, along the same road as the local rubbish tip. The tip isn’t that far from the actually waste dump site. The front entrance has a security officer and access isn’t allowed unless your going to the rubbish tip. We decided to drive back and take another farm rd off to the side, there was a small gate with no signage. Continued on foot for a few hours trekking through the bush in different directions, as the areas quite hilly. Then found a farm rd and walked along for 2km, we then stumbled upon a Buffalo farm, some little houses and a massive radioactive waste dump site.


No tespassing sign outside one of the gates to the ARE dump


It is said the Thorium waste has been mixed with cement and placed in cement block cells. its been under construction since 2012. In 2016 ARE will hand it over to the Malaysian Government to manage.

A major concern with rare earth ore is it is commonly found with deposits of Thorium, which is a naturally radioactive occurring element, it is more abundant than uranium and has a half life of 4.5 billion years (The estimated age of the sun).

The third ARE waste dump site proposal was put through in 2011 which coincidently is the same time that Lynas was given the green light for its rare earth refinery in Kuantan which is 460km away from Bukit Merah. Until this dump site plan the barrels of thorium were just dumped in fields near the refinery in surrounding areas including Papan which also saw vehement community opposition.

Which for most people they only ever see the benefits of rare earths for the applications they use and never really take it to account the disastrous affects this industry has had and still does have on the people who work in this industry and the communities in where they operate and the environment where the waste by-products end up.

Other carcinogenic chemicals are used in the refining of rare earths to extract the elements from the thorium and to separate the 17 elements from each other for individual use, such as hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide and sulfuric acid. Refining one ton of REE’s creates 75 cubic meters of acidic waste water and about one ton of radioactive residue are produced. These are generally dumped in tailings dam if your lucky

Most rare earth refining has been in northern China and Malaysia over the past three decades due to the serious environmental, health concerns and companies have gained greatly by laced environmental laws and cheap labour.
DAY 4 (June 19):

You can read a media release we issued today here.

While protesters continued long walks and bike rides to Kuantan, we headed to Bukit Merah, the site of an earlier toxic rare earth refinery run by Mitsubishi to interviews the victims of that horrific experience. In the early 90′s the Asian Rare Earth (ARE) refinery was closed down due to major health concerns and birth defects in the area. The company was forced to leave, but sadly the radioactive waste still remains. Australian film photographer Damian Baker also accompanied us.

DAY 3 (June 18): As Tully and I prepared to take part in a press conference in Kuala Lumpur, Wong Tack reports on the road to Kuantan:

"Our comrades from the Beautiful Gate Foundation for the Disabled (Kepong) arrived to walk in solidarity with Isaiah. They joined the walk for two hours.

"Tengku Zulpuri Shah, ADUN (Pahang state assembly member for) Mentakab and Ketua Pembangkang DUN (opposition leader in the state assembly of) Pahang, not only walked with Isaiah but also offered his home to Isaiah for the night."

Isaiah's heroic and painful retracing of the 300 km walk from KL to Kuantan which anti-Lynas activists previously did in November 2013, is inspiring many. Some have even described him as a modern "bodhisattva" - a traditional Buddhist term for someone who takes the path of enlightenment.

Later in KL we took part in a press conference together with Wong Tack from HH, federal opposition MP Fuziah Salleh (from the Keadilan party - PKR), Zulkefly Mohd Omar from the Islamic Party (PAS) and S. Arulchelvan (Arul) from the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM).

Wong Tack, who introduced the conference said, "The purpose here today is to announce to the Malaysian and world community that the Lynas company has only four more days in Malaysia. We will close them down or shut them down by June 22nd. That's our clear message to Lynas management: Get yourself ready and get out before then. There is no compromise. On June 22 will be closed down by the rakyat [the people] who will come together in our thousands. This campaign has gone for more than three years. 1.2 million Malaysians have petitioned Lynas and we took this to Lynas HQ [in Sydney] last year. We gave them six months notice - which is very reasonable - and now their time is up. We will keep our promise and shut them down." Listen to more here.

Tully and I had prepared statements. In my statement I said:

"My name is Natalie Lowrey, I am an International mining campaigner that has been working with various organisations, community groups, and Indigenous communities in Australia and Internationally for over a decade.

"I was originally drawn to the struggle against Lynas Corporation in Malaysia when a close friend, who had grown up in Kuantan, called me in distress about an Australian rare earth miner who had been given the green light to build and operate the worlds largest rare earth refinery very close to her hometown. I never imagined that as a result of Lynas corporate impunity the largest environmental campaign in Malaysian history would evolve over the past three years.

"As my colleague Tully has stated we stand by the thousands of Malaysians that oppose Lynas toxic and polluting plant. We represent politicians, academics, scientists, environmentalists, health professionals and concerned citizens in Australia who are appalled by an Australian company that is dumping its highly toxic and radioactive waste on Malaysians.

"We believe Malaysians lives are just as valuable as Australians.

"Lynas did not produce a comprehensive environmental impact assessment and is yet to produce a permanent waste plan for the radioactive waste produced at the LAMP, yet they were given a green light and a 12-year tax holiday to operate in Malaysia. Despite this Lynas shares continue to plummet and shareholders continue to be angered by their lies and disinformation.

"But who is going to be responsible to clean up Lynas mess in Malaysia if the financial crisis they are currently facing means they fold and have to shut their plant down?

"Future generations in Malaysia depend on the continuing solidarity between Australians and Malaysians, to call into account, not only Lynas Corporation, but both the Australian and Malaysian governments for allowing such a toxic development to be approved."

In her statement, Tully said:

"My name is Tully McIntyre I have been a mining activist in Australia on uranium and rare earths issues for the past 4 years. I am a spokesperson and representative of the Stop Lynas campaign in Australia.

"As part of the Stop Lynas campaign in Australia we have focused on the issues of rare earth processing, the waste produced and the disastrous affects it can have on human heath, water systems and agricultural lands.

"We are extremely concerned about Lynas Corporation and their operations in Malaysia. Lynas continues their deceptive marketing campaign to promote a perfectly safe rare earth refinery that is so called 'zero harm' and 'zero waste'. No rare earth refinery in the world promotes such clean operations or would deny the risks associated with the mining and refining of rare earths.

"On Monday this week myself and my colleague Natalie Lowrey visited the Lynas Advanced Material Plant (LAMP) in Kuantan. On arrival we were approached by employees asking what we were doing at the plant. We requested to have a tour of the refinery. The staff we spoke to refused to provide contact details of whom we could talk to, instead we were asked continually to leave for no given reason. One worker stated the plant was very safe, as he pointed to his steel cap boots, safety goggles and hard hat, which is compulsory on every work site in Australia and should be throughout the world.

"A serious concern with rare earth processing and refining are the radioactive substances and major toxic materials released in to the environment. Radioactive materials in particular cannot be seen, touched or smelt. Lynas still hasn't produced a permanent waste plan for its radioactive waste.

"We have traveled from Australia to Malaysia to hear first hand from the people living in close proximity to the Lynas plant and to broader community concerns about the worlds largest rare earth processing plant. Lynas never had the decency to consult and/or get consent from the communities that will be directly affected by their operation."

We also shared our demands:

  • Lynas Corporation to shut their rare earth refinery in Gebeng, clean up all of its waste and leave Malaysia.
  • Lynas Corporation, along with the Australian and Malaysian governments, to take full responsibility in cleaning up the waste at the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant if it is shut down, whether the shut down is caused through public pressure, legal and/or political will, environmental disaster or due to Lynas Corporation's continuing financial downfall and risk of insolvency.
  • The Australian Government to adhere to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. This includes controlling and reducing international movements of hazardous waste and ensuring environmentally sound management of wastes. As a world citizen it is Australia's responsibility to abide by such international agreements.
  • The Australian Government to implement policies around the mining and processing of rare earths and for all and any future rare earths mined in Australia to be processed in country according to 'worlds-best-practice'.

We will continue to challenge the Australian government and big indutry's ‘business as usual’ moto of the mining and processing of rare earths, particularly for the development and production of “green technologies”.

We are also advocating for more research and policy development around rare earths and urban mining, especially the reduction, reuse and recycling of minerals and metals including rare earths mined in Australia.

DAY 2 (June 17): Himpunan Hijau chairperson Wong Tack reports that after a difficult day hiking on crutches yesterday, Isaiah Jacob got blisters on the palms of both hands. But before setting off today local residents carefully bandaged on his hands and gave him a pair of gloves to protect his hands.

The walkers spent the night in Bukit Tinggi, a small town 2,500 feet above sea level. Today they plan to walk to another small highland town Karak.

Meanwhile in Malaysia's federal parliament today, two opposition MPs have been ejected by the speaker Datuk Seri Pandikar Amin Mulia, after they insisted on tabling a petition to debate the Lynas plant issue.

According to a report by The Malaysian Insider, "Pandikar ejected PKR’s Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh and Padang Serai MP N. Surendran, when both insisted, at different times, why he had rejected a petition filed on the Lynas' Temporary Operating License (TOL) from being read in the House today.

"He did not indicate how long the duo are suspended, although a suspension could last several days.

"This is the first time Fuziah has been ejected from Parliament, and the fourth for Surendran, since the last general election."

DAY 1 (June 16): This morning Isaiah Jacob is joining others making the extraordinary 300km walk from Kuala Lumpur to Kuantan where Lynas has its toxic and radioactive rare earth refining plant. The 622 Shut Down Lynas campaign is organised by Himpunan Hijau (Green Assembly). Last November, Himpunan Hijau activists staged a three-day occupation outside Lynas Corporation's HQ in Sydney.

"As a person with a disability, I know how difficult life can be. More so, I know the pain felt by parents who have handicapped children . Therefore, I'm taking up this challenge and willingly go through this suffering as an effort to support the Shut Down Lynas campaign. I don't want to see a child or family suffer due to radioactive pollution," explained Jacob.

This is the timetable for the Long Walk to shut down Lynas:

June 16 – Dataran Merdeka to Bukit Tinggi

June 17 – Bukit Tinggi to Karak

June 18 – Karak to Mentakab

June 19 – Mentakab to Maran

June 20 – Maran to Gambang

June 21 – Gambang to Kuantan

June 22 – Kuantan to Lynas plant

While the walkers set off on foot from Kuala Lumpur, another group of supporters on bicycles assembled in Johor Bahru outside the town's iconic clocktower. A group of activists from Himpunan Hijau started cycling 2,800km across Malaysia on May 15 to get the word about the June 22 shut down to communities around Malaysia.