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Jakarta residents await landmark ruling on right to clean air | Environment News



Medan, Indonesia – Teacher Istu Prayogi spent the 1990s living in Indonesia’s congested capital of Jakarta, all the time battling a runny nose, headaches and shortness of breath.

It turned out the problem was all around him, and he was not the only one suffering.

“I was diagnosed by a pulmonary specialist with spots in my lungs caused by air pollution,” Istu, a teacher at the Nusantara Jaya Tourism Academy, told Al Jazeera.

“The government didn’t pay attention to the poor air quality in Indonesia.”

Now, Istu who has since moved to the satellite city of Depok on the outskirts of Jakarta is one of 32 plaintiffs in a landmark “citizen lawsuit” that aims to hold the government responsible for failing to fulfill Indonesian citizens’ right to clean air.

Jakarta’s Central District Court will deliver its verdict on the case on June 10, after almost two years of legal wrangling over who is to blame for the filthy air of a city that is regularly ranked among the world’s most polluted, according to world air quality indexes.

Even during restrictions imposed last year to curb the spread of COVID-19, Jakarta’s streets were congested and air pollution exceeded WHO and national guidelines [File: Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/Reuters]

In 2019, a study produced by Vital Strategies and the Bandung Institute of Technology (BIT) found that Indonesia had the highest number of premature deaths associated with air pollution in Southeast Asia. The report also found that, in Jakarta, “the levels of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), the pollutant most hazardous to health, routinely exceeded that of the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines by four or five times”.

As part of the citizen lawsuit – a legal manoeuvre in which private citizens traditionally file a lawsuit in an effort to enforce a statute and a tactic often used in environmental law cases – the plaintiffs are not requesting financial compensation but instead hope that legal action will raise public awareness of the issue of air pollution in Jakarta and pressure the government to act.

The suit names Indonesia’s president, the minister of Environment and Forestry, the minister of Home Affairs, the governor of Jakarta and the governors of Banten and West Java provinces.

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs have asked that the panel of judges presiding over the case declare that the defendants have been negligent in fulfilling citizens’ rights to a healthy living environment and order them to tighten national air quality standards.

“We need a more robust legal framework and more progressive laws and sanctions regarding air pollution,” Leonard Simanjuntak, the country director of Greenpeace Indonesia, who is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit as a private citizen, told Al Jazeera.

Human rights issue

More than 10 million people live in Jakarta, but that number swells beyond 30 million once those in its five satellite cities and surrounding regencies – the site of thousands of industrial estates and manufacturing hubs – are included.

“This case is so important because we already know that breathing clean air is our right as humans,” Bondan Andriyanu, a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Indonesia told Al Jazeera.

“Air pollution on today’s scale clearly violates the rights to life and health, the rights of the child and the right to live in a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. This human rights perspective changes everything because the government then has clear, legally enforceable obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights [of the citizens].”


Greenpeace activists perform during a protest demanding the government take action to reduce air pollution in Jakarta, at the Health Ministry in Jakarta, Indonesia in September 2017 [File: Tatan Syuflana/AP Photo]

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2016, outdoor air pollution (ambient air pollution) was estimated to cause 4.2 million premature deaths globally, 91 percent of which occurred in low- and middle-income countries, with the greatest number of such deaths occurring in the WHO’s Southeast Asia and Western Pacific regions.

The WHO standard for annual ambient air quality is 10 micrograms of fine particles per cubic metre of air, while Indonesia’s national standard is 15 micrograms.

But Bondan says official data relating to fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, received by Greenpeace from the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry (MoEF) from 2020 – a year when the coronavirus pandemic meant the amount of traffic was lower in some months – showed 28.6 micrograms per cubic metre of air.

“If we compare our national ambient air quality standard to the WHO standard we are still far behind it. Even during the pandemic, the annual PM 2.5 data in Jakarta was above the national ambient air quality standard,” he said.

‘My child rarely goes out to play’

Elisa Sutanudjaja, the director of the Rujak Center for Urban Studies in Jakarta, also joined the suit.

She told Al Jazeera that she became aware of the poor air quality in Jakarta when she was pregnant and her fears about the effects of air pollution have only increased with time.

“As the parent of a 10-year-old girl we almost always use public transportation in Jakarta or walk,” she told Al Jazeera. “But we found we couldn’t enjoy our trips because of the pollution, especially from the fumes of motor vehicles. Nowadays, my child rarely goes outside to play.”

According to the 2019 report by Vital Strategies and the Bandung Institute of Technology (BIT), for which air quality experts from BIT took samples from three locations around Jakarta during the wet and dry seasons, the main sources of pollution in the city come from vehicles, secondary aerosols such as ammonium nitrate and ammonium sulfate, construction activities, open burning of biomass and other fuels, paved road dust, re-suspended soil particles, sea salt and coal combustion.

“The regulations for coal power plants in Indonesia and their emissions are so relaxed,” said Greenpeace’s Leonard. “There are coal power plants all around the outskirts of Jakarta and, if we use mathematical modelling, of course the emissions carry to the city.”





Air quality has not improved since the suit was filed two years ago. This picture shows a view of Jakarta last month with its high-rise offices and condominiums shrouded in smog [Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/Reuters]

In addition to tightening regulations around coal emissions, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit also hope the government will rethink its whole urban planning strategy in the city.

“The central government, through the Ministry of Public Works, continues to insist on building toll roads even though private vehicles are one of the biggest contributors to air pollution,” said Elisa. “I hope that through this lawsuit, there will be a strategy put in place to change this unsustainable development model and mobility policy.”

“As long as the development model is still car-centric, there will be no significant improvements.”

For their part, the defendants have rejected the suggestion that they are responsible for Jakarta’s noxious air.

“The people filing the lawsuit have also contributed to the decline in air quality,” the Governor of Jakarta Anies Baswedan who is listed as Defendant V in the citizen lawsuit, told the media in 2019.

“Unless everyone rides a bicycle, then it would be different. The air quality is not only caused by one or two professions, but by all of us, including those that filed the civil lawsuit.”

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Former Philippine president Benigno Aquino dies at age of 61 | Obituaries News




Aquino was the country’s 15th president from 2010 to 2016, and was succeeded by current president , Rodrigo Duterte.

Former Philippine President Benigno Aquino III died early on Thursday, after a prolonged illness, according to several news reports.

Aquino, 61, served as the country’s 15th president from 2010 to 2016, and was succeeded in office by the incumbent, Rodrigo Duterte.

According to ABS-CBN News, he was hospitalised last Thursday.

But he has been undergoing dialysis for at least five months and had recently undergone a heart operation.

It was during Aquino’s administration that Manila took on China and filed a case before the Court of Arbitration at The Hague over the South China Sea dispute.

The Philippines later won that landmark case a month after Aquino left office in 2016.

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The scrappy Hong Kong tabloid that refused to bow to Beijing | Freedom of the Press News




Hong Kong, China – The last edition of the Apple Daily, the small scrappy Hong Kong tabloid that emerged as a champion of democracy and outspoken critic of China, has rolled off the presses, four days after the newspaper celebrated its 26th anniversary.

The paper had been raided by police twice during the past 10 months on suspicion of violating the National Security Law that was imposed by Beijing almost a year ago. Since the first raid last August, founder Jimmy Lai, 73, has been in jail awaiting trial under the law.

Last week’s raid saw five top executives, including its chief editor, arrested for alleged security offences as 500 police officers swooped in on Apple’s headquarters, with another staffer – the head editorial writer – apprehended on Wednesday morning.

The final nail in the coffin, however, was Hong Kong authorities’ freeze on the bank accounts of the media group that owns the paper. The move made it impossible for the paper to pay its staff and vendors, even as readers snapped up copies to show their support.

The decision was based on “employee safety and manpower considerations”, Apple Daily said as it announced its closure on Wednesday.
“Here we say goodbye. Take care of yourselves.”

Staff members of Apple Daily and its publisher Next Digital clap out the final edition of a paper that began publishing in 1995 and became a thorn in Beijing’s side [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” framework meant to guarantee rights and liberties absent in the mainland. For most of the past 20 years, the territory has remained a bastion of press freedom in a country where media is muzzled.

“The demise of Apple Daily negates ‘one country, two systems’ and sets the stage for ‘one country, one system,’” said Willy Lam, a longtime commentator on Chinese politics and a veteran newspaper editor.

Bold, brash

Founded just two years before the handover, Apple Daily was at once a gamble and a leap of faith.

“The paper wanted to have some impact not just on Hong Kong but also to support the liberalisation of China,” Lam told Al Jazeera. “But as China has become less open to Western values, the paper has focused on defending Hong Kong values and holding Beijing to account.”

In its inaugural editorial, Apple Daily said it aimed to be a paper for the Hong Kong people.

Lai, its founder and funder, a devout Catholic who had made a fortune in the fashion business, named the paper after the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden in the Old Testament. Its rhyming couplet jingle – “An Apple a day, no liars can hold sway” – caught the attention of Hong Kong readers used to more staid offerings.

It was loud. It was bold, It was flashy.

The paper grabbed attention when it splashed a surreptitiously shot photo of Deng Xiaoping – China’s then-paramount leader died in February at the age of 92 – on his deathbed on the front page.

Brashness was its selling point.

Its reporters frequently skewered public officials and needled the comfortable.

“It speaks truth to power and finds a way to do profitably,” said Lokman Tsui, assistant professor of journalism at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Jimmy Lai, standing by one of the printing presses in 2009, created a hugely popular paper that supported democracy, was unafraid to speak truth to power and critical of the Communist Party in Beijing [File: Alex Hofford/EPA]
Apple Daily’s founder and funder, Jimmy Lai, was arrested in August under the national security law and the paper’s headquarters raided. He has now been jailed [File: Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

The paper catered to high brow and low. Colourful spreads of scantily-clad female models appeared in the same section of the paper as erudite columns featuring quotes in Latin and Classical Chinese. With a couple of exceptions, its ranks of columnists were the who’s who of the territory’s pro-democracy circle.

Giving people what they want

Launched at the dawn of the internet age, the daily was quick to adapt to the digital world. Its website pioneered animated news – a mix of stills, short clips and clever graphics with narration dripping with sour sarcasm. Its lifestyle channel on YouTube built a fervent following.

A decade in, the paper’s circulation peaked at 500,000 in a city of approximately six million people with a dozen dailies.

Apple Daily’s brand of advocacy journalism would soon make the paper a thorn in the side of the Chinese Communist Party. But to Lai, a rags-to-riches maverick millionaire now named Public Enemy No. 1 by Beijing, it was all about giving his customers what they would buy, even down to protest poster inserts.

In the summer of 2019, amid popular opposition to legislation that would send Hong Kong residents for trial in mainland China, the paper shorthanded “extradition to China” into the homophonic colloquial Cantonese expression of seeing someone to the grave. The expression immediately caught on and became a rallying cry in the protest movement.

“At times, we might have gone overboard but everything we did fell within the bounds of the law,” said Robert Chan, 45, who has covered mainland China for the paper for the past three years.

That is until the passage of the security law, which punishes what the authorities deem subversion, sedition, collusion with foreign forces and secession with possible life sentences.

Prosecutors have used Lai’s frequent meetings with US officials in recent years, from the then-vice president on down, as “evidence” of his alleged “collusion with foreign powers”.

Staff from Apple Daily and its publisher Next Digital work on the final edition of their newspaper on June 23. In its first-ever editorial, the paper said it wanted to be a publication of the Hong Kong people. It printed a million copies of its final edition [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Early last month, rumours started to circulate that Beijing wanted to see the paper be shuttered in time for the Communist Party’s centenary celebrations on July 1.

Technology reporter for a decade, Alex Tang, 37, said like most of his colleagues he had become conditioned to taking unsubstantiated gossip with a grain of salt – until the second raid and the company asset freeze.

During the past few days, some of the 800 reporters at the paper were frustrated by the lack of a definitive answer on the last publishing date and severance.

“Management said they’d hang on till the bitter end, and they’ve kept their word,” said Tang. “The company has done its best.”

Apple Daily will live on as a website on the self-governing island of Taiwan, where it ceased paper publication last month.

But in Hong Kong, China news reporter Chan said he will mourn the loss of far more than his livelihood.

“With the paper gone, so would the values it represents: pursuit of freedom and democracy,” he said.

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‘Real and present danger’: Sydney imposes new COVID curbs | Coronavirus pandemic News




Restrictions cover an estimated five million people after Delta variant-linked cases, as neighbouring New Zealand raises alert level.

People in Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, have been ordered not to leave the metropolitan area, as authorities scramble to contain a number of new coronavirus cases of the Delta variant – a development that has prompted neighbouring New Zealand to raise its alert level following possible exposure from a tourist from Australia.

New South Wales (NSW) State Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the stricter curbs – affecting about five million people who live and work in the city – on Wednesday.

“Clearly this is an evolving situation,” Berejiklian said at a news conference.

The new rules took effect at 4pm Sydney time (06:00 GMT) and will remain in force for a week.

“Given what has occurred the NSW government will be taking action today to limit the spread of what is a very contagious variant of COVID.”

NSW health minister Brad Hazzard described the situation as “a very real and present danger” for the city as a cluster first identified in the beach surburb of Bondi grew to 21 cases with eight confirmed on Wednesday morning.

Most of the newly confirmed cases were traced to a single event, where a mass gathering was held on Tuesday.

“This is a new and more dangerous version of the virus,” Hazzard said during the news conference.

The new restrictions include a limit on household visitors to five people, including children, Berejiklian said.

Mask wearing, which had already been reinstated on Friday, will be extended with people required to wear masks in all indoor settings outside the home and at organised outdoor events. The measures also include capacity limits on public transport and in gym classes, while singing at indoor venues, including places of worship, will not be allowed.

Authorities are also urging people to come forward for testing.

“If we adhere to the health orders today, we will have a good chance on getting on top of this outbreak,” Berejiklian told reporters.

New Zealand on alert


As of Wednesday, Australia had recorded more than 30,300 cases and 910 deaths.

The country has been among the world’s most successful in containing the pandemic, allowing it to reopen its border to New Zealand.

But the new cases are testing the travel bubble between the neighbours.

On Wednesday, New Zealand raised its pandemic alert level in Wellington to level two, which is one level short of a lockdown.

Earlier, an Australian tourist who visited the capital city over the weekend tested positive for COVID when they returned to Sydney.

“These are precautionary measures which will remain in place while we contact trace and test all of those we need to,” New Zealand’s COVID response minister Chris Hipkins said.

Under the elevated alert level, offices, schools and businesses are still allowed to open, but people are required to follow social distancing rules.

Gatherings of more than 100 people are banned, including weddings and other parties.

New Zealand has a population of five million people, and has recorded a total of 2,720 cases and 26 deaths. The country has posted a 98.2 percent recovery rate.

In Australia itself, Queensland and Victoria have both closed their borders to people from many parts of Sydney as a result of the new cases.

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