On September 4, 2013 the Taipei District Court dismissed a defamation lawsuit by the Formosa Plastics Group (FPG), a petrochemical company, against Ben-Jei Tsuang, an environmental engineer at the National Chung Hsing University, for research suggesting that emissions by the chemical plant led to elevated cancer rates in certain parts of Taiwan.
During a meeting of the environmental impact assessment committee of Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Administration in April 2011, Tsuang presented evidence that hazardous heavy metals and carcinogenic substances in emissions from an FPG factory in Mailiao had led to higher rates of cancer among nearby residents. According to reports, Tsuang’s findings played an important role in the government rejecting an FPG project seeking expansion of petrochemical activities in Central Taiwan.
In April 2012 FPG filed a civil defamation lawsuit against Tsuang, demanding compensation of NT$40 million (US$1.3 million), as well as a formal apology in the nation’s four major newspapers. In addition, FPG initiated a criminal action alleging “aggravated defamation.”
On September 4, 2013 the Taipei District Court dismissed the civil lawsuit and announced a future dismissal of the criminal case against Tsuang stating that his declarations were “fair comments on a fact subject to public criticism.” FPG is reportedly expected to appeal the court’s decision.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of civil and criminal defamation actions against scholars based on the content of their academic work. Even when they are dismissed, as in this case, such actions can impose significant emotional, professional and financial costs on defendants, chill academic freedom generally and undermine research, publication and teaching. SAR urges state and higher education officials to examine defamation laws and practices in their jurisdictions to ensure consistency with internationally recognized rights of free inquiry, free expression and academic freedom.