Jail for email on hospital visit exposes the law's heavy hand in Indonesia

Jail for email exposes the law's heavy hand

The Australian - June 6, 2009

Stephen Fitzpatrick, Jakarta -- A Jakarta housewife
facing six years' jail simply for writing an angry
email to friends has become a cause celebre for
opponents of Indonesia's retrogade defamation laws,
its opaque criminal prosecution system and its poor
level of medical care.

The case against mother of two Prita Mulyasari, 32,
has energised the nation, with news crews camping
outside her home in Tangerang, on Jakarta's western
outskirts, for hourly live updates after her
temporary release from jail this week.

Former president Megawati Sukarnoputri had earlier
taken journalists to visit the hapless Ms Mulyasari
in her prison cell, current leader Susilo Bambang
Yudhoyono urged prosecutors to review the case and
Jusuf Kalla, the third presidential hopeful in next
month's general election, declared it should always
have been settled outside court.

A support group on the social networking site
Facebook has attracted more than 150,000 members.

The Attorney-General Hendarman Supandji was forced
this week to concede his own staff had behaved
"unprofessionally" in the matter, and promised they
would go to trial if found to have taken
inducements to lay charges against Ms Mulyasari.

Mr Supandji's admission showed how little control
his office has over district prosecutors, who are
regularly accused of ignoring the letter of the law
in favour of profitable agreements negotiated
between parties.

Five Australians still detained in the Papuan town
of Merauke for entering by air without the proper
visas last year, despite being acquitted by the
High Court there in March, can attest to that lack
of control.

The so-called "Merauke Five" were supposed to be
able to leave quietly and quickly after their
acquittal, under a deal done at the highest levels
in Jakarta but stymied by local officials who felt
angry and snubbed.

The five now await the outcome of a Supreme Court
review, expected in the next few days; the worst
likely to happen to the prosecutors responsible for
the quintet's continued and pointless detention is
that they will eventually be moved on.

The prosecutors in Ms Mulyasari's case, however,
are under greater scrutiny to prove their case.

So, too, are officials at the Omni International
Hospital, where Ms Mulyasari went for treatment
after suffering a fever for three days last August.
After being misdiagnosed with the mosquito-borne
dengue virus -- in fact, she had mumps -- she was
given a series of injections that quickly made her
condition worse. She suffered major swelling to her
hands and neck, breathing difficulties and damage
to one eye.

In an angry email to friends later she warned them
to watch out for hospitals boasting "luxury" and an
"international title, because the more luxurious
the hospital is, and the smarter the doctors are,
the more frequent the patient tests, drug sales,
and injections".

Omni should have treated her as an outpatient and
given her a minimum of medication, she claimed.
Hospital care in Indonesia, where medical insurance
is minimal, is an expensive and unregulated
business, with profits made on each prescription.

The long email, initially sent only to friends,
became a hot item on Indonesian blogs, which led
the hospital to launch a civil defamation suit
against Ms Mulyasari. She lost that case last month
and was fined 312 million rupiah ($38,512). Two
days later, prosecutors arrested her on the heavier
criminal charges, carrying a maximum six years'
jail.
 

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