Australian mining activist released from Malaysian prison

Saturday, June 28, 2014
Natalie Lowrey after being released on June 27. Photo: Lee Chean Chung.

Australian environmental campaigner Natalie Lowrey has been released after spending five days in a Malaysian prison. She was arrested in Kuantan, Malaysia on June 22 after participating in a protest against Australian company Lynas.

A petition for her release gained 15,000 signatures and protests calling for her release were held in Sydney, Perth and Alice Springs.

The “Shut Lynas Down” protest was organised by the Green Assembly, a Malaysian environment movement protesting Lynas’ polluting rare earths processing plant.

The controversial plant faces strong opposition from local residents and environmental groups who are concerned about the effects of radioactive contamination. It is the focus of one of the largest environmental campaigns in Malaysia’s history.

The aim of the peaceful protest was to send a strong message to the Australian company to shut down its operations in Malaysia.

Lowrey was in Malaysia to give solidarity and support to locals in the fight against the polluting plant. She was arrested with 15 Malaysian activists, who have since been released.

READ NATALIE LOWREY'S LIVEBLOG FROM MALAYSIA: CAMPAIGN TO SHUT DOWN LYNAS

Malaysia requires citizens apply to the police to stage peaceful gatherings. Lowrey says she was unaware that Malaysian police had deemed the protest illegal.

Environmental campaigner Tully McIntyre travelled to Malaysia with Lowrey and visited her in prison daily. She said: “I am extremely concerned about my close friend Natalie's current situation. Neither Natalie or myself were notified by police that the protest was illegal.

"It does make her feel stronger knowing there is so much global support behind her. She did say that this isn't just about her and felt compelled to sit down with the other protestors at that time as there was something in her heart that told her do it."

Lowrey told McIntyre: “I feel very strongly about this issue as there isn't enough transparency about the waste management at the refinery. Lynas’ temporary two-year operating license two years expires in September and they are required to have an approved waste management plan in place.

“If you spend a moment in this community, you would realise these people are really beautiful everyday people, who are genuinely concerned about the plant’s operations and its management of waste. These people care about future generations and their local environment and fishing areas.”


About 1000 people took part in the blockade outside Lynas. Photo courtesy of PSM.

The plant was built with no consultation with the local communities who found out about the project from an article in the newspaper when it was already 60% complete.

The Save Malaysia! Stop Lynas! movement has taken this protest across Malaysia and to Australia. They have been outraged by the lack of information, the hasty and inadequate approval process of the Malaysian government and the arrogance of Lynas who plan to dump huge amounts of toxic and radioactive waste on their land. Lynas has no social licence to operate.

The plant requires a massive amount of water and acid for processing the rare earth ore. Product waste involves solid, gas and liquid substances. A by-product of the processing is radioactive Thorium which is dangerous to human health.

There are approximately 700,000 people living within 30 kilometres of the plant and it is located near coastal tourist resorts and an environmentally sensitive fishery area.

Construction of the plant began in secrecy and ahead of proper environmental approvals and creation of a waste management plan. The government has not released any monitoring data from Lynas for public scrutiny.

No detailed Environmental Impact Assessment was done which would have been mandatory in Australia. This is a clear example of companies taking their dirty industry to poorer countries with less stringent environmental regulations.

No Social Impact Assessment was undertaken to explore the range of impacts the operations may have on local communities and their livelihoods that are heavily dependent on fishing and tourism.

Scientific scrutiny of the plant has shown serious deficiencies including the absence of a safe radioactive waste disposal plan and outmoded air and water pollution control mechanisms.

The Malaysian government told the public the plant was a clean and safe project and that it is a non-radioactive plant. But in 2011 it was revealed that Lynas paid a sum of money to the government as collateral in the event of any damage to the environment.

[Visit stoplynas.org and savemalaysia-stoplynas.blogspot.com.au to find out more about the campaign.]

From GLW issue 1014