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Taiwan scientist faces libel trial

Posted on behalf of Michele Catanzaro.

Ben-Jei Tsuang, an environmental engineer at Taiwan’s National Chung Hsing University in Taichung, will appear in a Taipei courtroom tomorrow for the fourth hearing in a libel lawsuit filed against him by the petrochemical company Formosa Plastics Group (FPG). FPG’s lawyers have asked for US$1.33 million in damages.

Two FPG affiliates sued Tsuang for defamation in April, after the scientist presented evidence of increased cancer risk — related to heavy metals and dioxins released into the air — close to FPG plants. These results were presented at a scientific conference in December 2010 and in a press conference in November 2011, and are now submitted for publication.

Tsuang’s results were part of the expert evidence considered by the Taiwan Environmental Protection Agency in assessing the impact of the Kuokuang project, a petrochemical infrastructure project that was cancelled in May 2012.

Tsuang is also facing a criminal complaint filed by the same companies. It was rejected by Taipei District Prosecutor’s Office in June, but FPG has appealed to the High Court.

More than 1,000 academics, including Nobel chemistry laureate Lee Yuan Tseh, have signed an open letter in support of Tsuang (in Chinese). “We appeal to Formosa Plastic Group to stop misusing public power to suppress free speech and academic freedom”, states the letter, which asks FPG to withdraw the case and “to respect the public’s right to comment and monitor the operation of its enterprise”.

Several high-profile libel cases involving scientists and science journalists in the United Kingdom over the past few years have led to a campaign to reform UK libel laws (Nature is a supporter of the campaign). A bill to update the law is now before Parliament.

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