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Environmental Defenders Fear Backlash as Defendant Sues Expert Over Testimony

Basuki Wasis (third from left, holding a mic), an environmental expert from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB), speaks during a press conference at the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute (YLBHI)’s office in Jakarta. Photo courtesy of YLBHI.

 

  • Basuki Wasis, an environmental expert whose testimony helped convict a provincial governor of abuse of power, now faces a lawsuit brought by the latter for alleged inaccuracies in his calculations of environmental damage.
  • The lawsuit against Basuki is similar to one he faced last year from a palm oil company that was fined for setting fires on its concession. The earlier lawsuit was dropped, but the company now appears to be targeting another expert witness who testified against it.
  • The litigation has sparked concerns among environmental experts and activists alike, who fear it will have a silencing effect and allow environmental crimes to go unpunished.
  • They also worry that without financial assessments of damages caused to the environment, prosecutors trying corruption cases in the natural resources sector will not be able to push for longer prison sentences and heavier fines.

 

JAKARTA — Environmental experts and activists are closely watching a lawsuit filed against an academic whose testimony helped convict a governor on corruption charges, in a case many fear could set a worrying precedent.

Basuki Wasis, an expert on environmental degradation from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB), has testified in more than 200 cases involving environmental crimes such as forest fires and pollution.

On Feb. 14 this year, he testified as a prosecution witness against Nur Alam, the suspended governor of Southeast Sulawesi, who was charged with abuse of power in the issuance of mining licenses. Basuki told the court that the illegal mining activities by one of the companies that received a permit from Alam had led to deforestation and resulted in 2.7 trillion rupiah ($196 million) in combined ecological losses, environmental economic losses, and the cost of repairing the damage.

On March 12, Alam’s lawyers filed a lawsuit against Basuki, questioning the accuracy of his calculations and his credibility. (Alam was convicted on March 28; he was sentenced to 12 years in prison and ordered to pay fines and damages totaling 3.7 billion rupiah, or $268,000.)

Read moreEnvironmental Defenders Fear Backlash as Defendant Sues Expert Over Testimony