Six Taiwanese environmental activists visiting Pengerang in Johor to support local residents in their anti-petrochemical complex movement were harassed by the police in the wee hours of last night.

After forcibly ending a dialogue between them and Pengerang residents, police took the Taiwanese visitors to the local police station and questioned them for one hour.

The activists, who successfully led a movement last year to stop state-owned Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Co from building a petrochemical complex in the republic, are on a two-day visit to Malaysia to share their struggle with Pengerang residents.

The petrochemical plant the Taiwanese government rejected is to be built in Pengerang as part of the Petronas Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development (Rapid) project, an initiative under the Economic Transformation Programme.

This has sparked protest from the local residents, who have formed an ad hoc group to spearhead the protest against the Rapid project.

According to independent documentary maker Chou Z Lam, who was at the dialogue, plainclothes police from the Special Branch, carrying video cameras, appeared at a local temple where the dialogue was to be held long before it started at 7pm.

Police also set up a roadblock not far from the temple but it failed to deter some 500 residents from attending the dialogue.

Residents forced to end session at 10.30pm

About 10.30pm, police forced the residents to end the dialogue.

Kota Tinggi district police chief Che Mahazam Che Aik ordered the six activists to follow him to Sungai Rengit for questioning but the local residents opposed this on grounds that the police had no reason to order them, nor arrest warrants.

The stand-off continued until 11.30pm when government personnel believed to be immigration officers turned up.

A compromise was reached after Che Mahazam gave his assurance that no one would be arrested.

The six activists were taken to the police station around 12.15am today and released after an hour of questioning.

They are Chen Ping Heng, Grace Kan, Shy Yueh Ing, Chien Yu Chun, Lin Jin Lang and Cai Jia Yang.

Chou also said the tyres on two cars, one belonging to a local resident the other to Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall chief executive officer Tang Ah Chai, who was host to the Taiwanese activists, had been punctured last night.

Both of them have lodged police reports.

The harassment, residents said, began yesterday when documentaries on the Kuokuang petrochemical plant the activists brought with them were screened in public in Pengerang.

Last night, about a dozen Special Branch personnel in plainclothes appeared and recorded the event but did not interfere.

It was earlier reported that the Johor government had quietly sealed an agreement with the Kuokuang petrochemical holding company, CPC Corp, to build a RM35 billion petrochemical complex in Pengerang.

The project, in its early stages, consists of a refinery with a 150,000-barrel-a-day capacity and a naphtha cracker with an 800,000-tonne annual capacity.

The project was initially slated to be built in the Dacheng Wetlands in Taiwan's Changhua County, which is also the habitat of the critically endangered Taiwan pink dolphins.

It was rejected by Taiwan President Ma Ying-Jeou last April, after local residents and environmental impact assessment teams raised concerns that the complex would consume too much water and generate high levels of pollution in the ecologically sensitive area.