“Zero Waste for Zero Warming” may get you arrested in Indonesia

I’ve spent much of the last two days emailing back and forth with colleagues around the world in a state of panic. Early Sunday morning, I received a call that three friends – from India, the Philippines and the U.S. – were detained in Indonesia. They were en route to the historic UN Framework on Climate Change Conference in Bali, taking place this week. Along with the official government delegates, many environmental and social justice activist are also attending the conference to share information and strategize about combating global warming. My friends planned to host a forum entitled ‚”Zero Waste for Zero Warming‚” at the conference, to educate others about the strong connection between waste disposal and climate change.

The three – Gigie Cruz, Shibu Nair, and Neil Tangri – stopped in Bandung at the invitation of a local organization opposed to the construction of a new garbage incinerator in their town. The local groups held an event, which drew 2,000 community members, to discuss the environmental, health and climate impacts of burning garbage. My friends were taken by the police on Saturday after speaking there about the ill effects of incinerating waste and advocating for healthier alternatives. At the police station, their passports were seized; they were subjected to lengthy interrogation and asked to sign a document in the Bahasa Indonesian language.

Gigie, Shibu and Neil have been able to send us period text messages reporting that no formal charges have been brought and they don’t feel their physical safety is in immediate danger. But they continue to be detained, and will likely be deported for speaking at a peaceful public education event about the environmental and health problems with burning garbage.

In contrast to the Neanderthal response of jailing people speaking about community well being, a network of active global citizens jumped into positive action. Within an hour of receiving the news, email alerts went out to activists working on sustainability, climate and waste issues around the world. Faxes and emails began flooding Indonesian embassies in Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe, calling for the safe release of the three Zero Waste experts. Leading environmentalists already at the Bali conference contacted people they knew in the Indonesian government, all the way up to the President. The combination of email activism and strong civil society networks demonstrated to the Indonesian police that the whole world really was watching.

I woke up this morning to learn that Gigie, Shibu and Neil have been transferred to a hotel, still under police custody, and will likely be deported soon, preventing them from speaking about‚ “Zero Waste for Zero Warming‚” at the critical UN Framework on Climate Change Conference.

Above all, I am just glad my friends are safe. I’m also grateful to be part of a growing global civil society movement seeking both environmental sustainability and social justice, which must include freedom to share environmental and health information. I look forward to that day that people aren’t jailed for speaking the truth about incinerators – both because freedom of speech is guaranteed everywhere, for everyone, and also because incinerators are a thing of the past and we’ve moved on to solutions that really do protect the environment, community health and the climate.

Note: for updates on the three activists detained in Bandung, Indonesia en route to the UN Framework on Climate Change Conference, please visit no-burn.org.