Executives from seven different companies have been arrested in Indonesia, after being accused of starting illegal fires which have caused air pollution in the region.
Arrests for this type of behavior are uncommon in the region, but they could bring fines and prison sentences of up to 15 years. The move highlights the legal consequences polluters are starting to face around the world as awareness of the deadly effects of their actions spreads.
While haze caused by forest fires is a problem every year in Indonesia, this year has been particularly bad and the country declared a state of emergency in its Riau province.
The nearby countries of Malaysia and Singapore have also been affected by the problem. The haze stretches for hundreds of miles across Southeast Asia.
The fires are believed to be the result of both corporations and small-time farmers using illegal slash and burn methods in order to remove vegetation for palm oil, pulp, and paper plantations. As the prospects for trade have become more lucrative in recent years, the fires have grown into a larger issue.
Based on law in Indonesia, executives that are in charge of companies that have been accused of committing “environmental mismanagement” are able to be criminally prosecuted. For many years, Indonesia has made promises to increase its enforcement on laws regarding illicit fires.
However, up until now there had been few arrests and nobody had been held responsible. The recent arrests suggest that Indonesia is making a stronger attempt to crack down on the problem.
According to police chief of Indonesia, General Badrodin Haiti, the seven companies involved in the crimes are based in either Sumatra or Kalimantan on Indonesian Borneo. These locations have been the location of most of the fires.
It is unclear exactly how many executives have been arrested.
Burning vegetation to clear land has a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail and a $692,000 fine, while illegal burning of forests has a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail and a fine of over $1 million.
General Badrodin went on to state that 20 additional companies representing 140 individuals were also under investigation.
President of Indonesia Joko Widodo has promised to hold plantation companies responsible for clearing land illegally through burning. The government has also made threats to remove licenses of companies that have been found guilty of committing harm to the environment.
High-level executives and possibly shareholders of the companies could be targeted by police investigations according to the police chief.
However, environmentalists want Indonesia to follow through on the issue, as the country is experiencing heavy pressure both locally and abroad to put an end to this problem.
Malaysia has had to close schools and issue health alerts as a result of the haze. Meanwhile, the organizers of the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Singapore have stated that the night racing scheduled for this weekend will proceed as planned despite concerns about the air quality after the thick haze lingered all week.