12 November 2019
Bambang Hero Saharjo, who is the Indonesian lead expert witness on environmentally catastrophic peatland fires has been awarded the 2019 John Maddox Prize for his courage and integrity in standing up for sound science in the face of harassment, intimidation, and law suits.
Prof. Dr. Ir. H. Bambang Hero Saharjo, Bogor Agricultural University, is the foremost expert on illegal and destructive forest and land fires in Indonesia, and the winner of the 2019 Maddox Prize. Peatland forest fires, which are often started by companies who want to clear land cheaply and quickly, including palm oil companies, cause enormous environmental damage; up to 5 September, global fires this year have released more carbon dioxide than annual emissions from the EU and Japan combined. They are also incredibly dangerous, recent Indonesian fires are said by Unicef to be putting 10 million children at risk. Bambang’s expertise allows him to trace the route and source of fires and he has testified in 500 court cases investigating fires. He has also helped local groups to understand the evidence about health and environmental damage. In 2015 Bambang’s testimony was instrumental in palm oil company JJP’s guilty verdict; in 2018 they filed a $33.5 million lawsuit (SLAPP) against him on a technicality. He continues to testify and stand up for the Indonesian people’s constitutional right to a healthy environment, one of the very few scientists in his field who are prepared to do so.
Bambang Hero Saharjo: “I still do not believe that I am receiving the prestigious John Maddox Prize. Only last year I was criminalised for presenting evidence and being forced to pay nearly rp.510 billion by the palm oil companies, who had been found guilty of preparing to plant palms by burning 1000 hectares of peatland. Finally the lawsuit was rejected and I am free. Using fire for land preparation is so destructive to the environment and it is destroying the health of local people. This is what the evidence shows. The prize will give me more power to say it and to fight the misrepresentation by companies who continue use of fire.”