Wed, 23 Aug 2000

Walhi demands Freeport apologize for misleading info

JAKARTA (JP): The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) demanded on Tuesday that mining giant PT Freeport Indonesia apologize to the public for spreading misleading information on a recent accident at its overburden dump.

During the preliminary hearing of the case in South Jakarta District Court, Walhi's team of lawyers said that Freeport should make a public apology through the national and international media.

The lawyers demanded that Freeport should publish a full-page advertisement for one week in at least 10 national daily newspapers, and two local daily newspapers in Irian Jaya; a one- page advertisement for a month in at least 10 national magazines, five international magazines, and in three international daily newspapers.

The company must also air prime time advertisements for a week on six national television stations, and five international television stations; and on 10 national radio stations at least five times a day, with each advertisement having a duration of one minute, for 10 days, they added.

"The apology must be made at least seven days after the court's decision and for every instance of delay Walhi demands a penalty of $100,000," Walhi's lawyers said in a statement read out during the hearing.

Walhi's legal team includes R Dwiyanto Prihartono, Abdul Harris Semendawai and Chairil Syah.

The preliminary hearing was presided over by Judge Lalu Mariyun, who is also President of the South Jakarta District Court, and was attended by around 40 spectators.

Walhi filed a lawsuit against Freeport following a landslide at its overburden waste dump at Wanagon Lake near its copper and gold mine in Grasberg, Irian Jaya. The accident, which occurred on May 4, lead to the death or disappearance of four workers.

Walhi accused Freeport of spreading misleading information on the accident in order to protect itself.

At the beginning of the hearing, Judge Lalu invited Walhi and Freeport to settle their dispute out of court, but the offer was rejected by Walhi's lawyers.

"They (Freeport) have announced their information to the public through the House of Representatives. Thus, it would be wrong for us to settle out of court," Walhi's lawyers stated.

The lawyers further stated that Freeport had violated the 1997 Law on Environmental Management which obliges every company to provide accurate and correct information about its environmental management activities.

They added that Freeport had provided incorrect information in the press releases dated May 5 and May 24, during the hearing held by House of Representatives Commission VIII on the Environment, Science, and Technology on June 28, and in the company's 1998 annual report.

In the press release dated May 5 and during the House hearing, Freeport stated that an early warning system had been set up at Banti, a village 16 kilometers from the Wanagon basin, to warn the villagers of floods.

Freeport also stated that the flood at Banti had not resulted in the loss of life as the system had worked perfectly, Walhi's lawyers contended.

However, Walhi's lawyers stressed, the early warning system could in no wise be described as having worked properly.

"The Banti villagers said they only knew of the flood from the sound of rushing water, and that the early warning system only sounded around 30 minutes after the flood had reached the village," the lawyers' statement said.

They blamed the disappearance and death of the workers at Wanagon Lake on the malfunctioning of the early warning system.

Also in the May 5 press release, according to the lawyers, Freeport deliberately implied that the Wanagon accident had been the result of natural causes.

"An environmental report by Freeport had said that Wanagon Lake was prone to accidents. This did not stop the defendant from dumping huge amounts of overburden in the lake. Therefore, the defendant knowingly and deliberately increased the risk of accidents," Semendawai said.

Freeport was represented by Sidi Minang Warman, Isnanu Chalid, Nanda Hidayat and Iwan Sidharta of the Minang Warman & Associates law firm.

The hearing was adjourned until Sept. 13, when Freeport's lawyers will submit their responses to Walhi's charges. (10)