Jailed woman sings to pass time

Last updated 18:38 27/06/2014
Natalie Lowrey
ARRESTED: Environmental activist Natalie Lowrey, pictured at an earlier protest in Sydney, has been detained in Malaysia.

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A New Zealand woman has been singing Waltzing Matilda to pass the time in a Malaysian police cell, where she awaits news on whether she will be charged or deported over an environmental protest.

Natalie Lowrey was arrested on Sunday while protesting at a rare earth minerals refinery plant operated by Australian company Lynas.

Fifteen Malaysian protesters were released, but Lowrey remains in a cell with up to 20 other women.

Her friend, fellow activist Tully McIntyre, says she is able to phone home and is being treated well.

The women often sing songs from home and the New Zealander, who calls Bondi, Sydney, home, breaks into Waltzing Matilda.

"Natalie is a strong woman, she really is, and she is aware of the worst case scenario," McIntyre said on Friday.

Police say Lowrey could possibly be charged with an unlawful assembly offence that carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail.

But Malaysian authorities have not yet communicated this to Lowrey's lawyers, leading them to criticise the lack of transparency around her detention.

Lead counsel Roger Chan says under immigration law, Malaysian authorities can hold Lowrey without charge for 14 days.

"We are arguing that she be released or charged immediately since we are given to understand investigation has been completed," he said.

The controversial Lynas plant refines rare earths, minerals needed in the production of high-tech devices such as smartphones.

Protesters say the waste from the plant contains radioactive thorium, a dangerous legacy for the 700,000 Malaysians who live within 30 kilometres of the plant, and the coastal environment.

A spokesman for Lynas said the plant was located in a dedicated multinational petro-chemical industrial park.

The plant adhered to strict human and environmental health safeguards imposed internationally and in Malaysia, he said.

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