Asia: Environmental Activists Under Attack

OLIVIA AMEZCUA WRITES — Ongoing attacks against environmental activists have been on the rise throughout Asia, attacks that are increasingly violent and range from death threats, arrests, intimidation, cyber attacks, sexual assault, and lawsuits, the Global Witness reports.

The Philippines is by far the largest hotspot for such foul play. Still, three recent incidents in other Asian countries within the first two months of 2019 —Indonesia, Laos, and Malaysia— further reveal the severity and pervasiveness of these anti-activist assaults.  

On February 1st, an Indonesian family became victims of an arson attack on their home in Menemeng (a village located on the island of Lombok). Although their property was damaged, remarkably, no one was harmed. The target was Murdani, the head activist of the local chapter of Indonesia’s largest environmental NGO – the Indonesian Forum for the Environment. Murdani has been working against sand mining. He believes that his advocacy work was the reason behind the attack, and that he had been watched for months.


In Laos, fifteen villagers of an ethnic minority called Brou have been detained more than two years without trial for protesting the government awarding land to a Vietnamese rubber company. Asian Human Rights Defenders, a platform created by the organization FORUM-ASIA to bring awareness to human rights violations in Asia, stated, “Land grabs and the appropriation of public property to turn over to foreign and domestic companies are common in Laos, and villagers affected by them often refuse to speak out publicly because they fear retribution.” On 14 February we learned that one of the detainees has reportedly passed away, and although four were released, 10 are still detained. Of those 10, two have now become dangerously ill as a result of the conditions of detention. A local recounted that one had swollen limbs while the other has suffered stomach problems as well as blood loss.

On 18 February, it was reported that a Swiss NGO, Bruno Manser Fund, had officially asked Indonesian authorities to cease all intimidation tactics against indigenous leaders. This request followed a threat made to the indigenous leader Orang Asli, who would be arrested for protesting the palm oil plantation on his native land in Malaysia. The palm oil plantation will undoubtedly negatively impact the livelihood of the villagers as well as the wildlife corridor located by Mulu National Park, a protected rainforest.

A Look Into the Philippines


A 2016 study revealed that every 12 days, an environmental activist is killed in the Philippines. In 2017, the number of environmental activists murdered globally had reached a record high of  207– 200 were murdered in 2016 and 185 in 2015. It is believed these numbers are highly underestimated due to the difficulty in collecting data.  Those killed are often indigenous groups attempting to protect their land, as well as formally organized activists attempting to aid their efforts.

As the numbers continue to rise, one thing remains clear: the Philippines is one of the most dangerous places for environmental activists. This is due to three key factors: the Philippines’ large amount of natural resources, an expansive indigenous population, and residual land disputes from the colonial era. Fingers also point to Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s imposition of martial law and aggressive anti-human rights discourse.

These are not just numbers. These represent real people. And with that, perhaps we owe a moment of silence for those who lost their lives and a donation to

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