Taipei, April 29 (CNA) Several academics urged the Formosa Plastics Group on Sunday to drop its lawsuit against a university professor who published a report that said one of the group's factories in Yunlin County was emitting air pollutants known to cause cancer.
The legal action taken by the Formosa group against Tsuang Ben-jei, a professor at National Chung Hsing University's Environmental Engineering Department, represented restriction of academic freedom, 10 academics said at a press conference. They called on the conglomerate to drop the lawsuit in the interest of academic freedom.
Last year, Tsuang published a report that said 66 factories in Taichung and Yunlin County, including the Formosa group's sixth naphtha cracking plant, were found to have been emitting heavy metals and dioxins, a known human carcinogen.
The group subsequently brought a NT$40 million (US$1.4 million) lawsuit against Tsuang.
Chou Chang-hung, an Academia Sinica specialist in plant ecology and phytochemical ecology, said it is regrettable that Tsuang is being forced to defend his own research in court.
F. S. Shieu, dean of the College of Engineering at National Chung Hsing University, said he felt obliged to stand up and fight for academic freedom and that Tsuang's research was rigorous and objective.
Taiwan is a democratic society and the public should be able to reach a consensus on the issue through open discussions, Shieu said, suggesting the Formosa group publish its own research to convince the public that Tsuang was wrong, instead of suing him.
Hsu Wei-chun, an assistant professor at Chung Yuan Christian University's Department of Financial and Economic Law, said the courts are not the place to seek academic truth but rather are for protecting people's rights.
He said he hoped the court would safeguard the Constitution and avoid aligning itself with big conglomerates to scare citizens.
Chen Chi-chung, a professor at National Chung Hsing University's Applied Economics Department, read a statement issued by the university, saying that Tsuang is a well-known authority in the field of air-pollution and that the university will put its full weight behind Tsuang and protect his rights.
As of Saturday, some 500 academics, including Nobel chemistry laureate Lee Yuan-tseh, had signed a petition in support of Tsuang.
Meanwhile, Wu Yu-hsueh, the Formosa group's lawyer, said Sunday the group respects academic freedom, but Tsuang's research cited false data, which had damaged the group's reputation and caused panic among residents in the area.
Wu said the data was simulated and not the actual emission volume of the factory, which put Tsuang's actions outside the scope of protection of the freedom of speech.
The Formosa Group did ask Tsuang to provide the source of his data and asked for greater clarification of the report, but Tsuang did not respond, Wu said.
In the report, Tsuang cited the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) as a source of his data but when the group contacted the EPA, it denied ever providing such data to Tsuang, Wu said.
Asked if the group will drop the lawsuit, Wu said the case has entered the legal system but there is still room for reconciliation if Tsuang wishes to settle out of the court. It depends on whether Tsuang is willing to apologize or find a way to restore the group's reputation, Wu added.
If the group wins the lawsuit, it will donate the NT$40 million in damages to charity, Wu said.
The Formosa group maintains higher environmental standards than the regulations specify, he said, adding that there are numerous factors that can contribute to the incidence of cancer among residents of the area.
(By Hsieh Chia-chen, Sabine Cheng, Chao Hsiao-hui and Ann Chen)