Prita Mulyasari & Digital People Power

Jun 10th, 2009, in IM Posts, Internet, by

Prita MulyasariBlogs and social networks are helping Indonesians to become more vocal and to fight for free speech.

Any person who follows Indonesian news closely could not have missed the story of Prita Mulyasari. Prita is a 32-old housewife who in an e-mail titled “Penipuan (Fraud) Omni International Hospital Alam Sutera Tangerang” to friends complained about the diagnosis and treatment she received from Omni Hospital in Banten. That e-mail became public on the internet and has been spread to numerous mailing lists. The Omni Hospital became aware of this and decided to charge her with defamation.  Prita lost a civil case and was ordered to pay a Rp. 261 million fine.

Prita Mulyasari
Prita Mulyasari

But after being named a suspect of violating Article 27 of the Electronic Information Transaction Law and Articles 310 and 311 of the Criminal Code Prita have been detained in Tangerang women’s prison prior to her trial. This was the moment for the Indonesian internet community to come into action and express their outrage. A Facebook cause group called DUKUNGAN BAGI IBU PRITA MULYASARI, PENULIS SURAT KELUHAN MELALUI INTERNET YANG DITAHAN has reached over 250,000 members and a website dedicated to the cause is sometimes unreachable because of heavy traffic.

Because of this mounting public pressure Prita has been released from prison and put under city arrest prior to her trial. All presidential candidates have visited her (Megawati) or voiced their support for her. The Attorney’s General Office is planning to question Tangerang prosecutors, who apparently also received free medical care from the hospital, about their decision to charge Prita. Furthermore the House of Representatives' Commission IX on population, health, manpower and transmigration has called on the Omni International Hospital, Tangerang to drop its libel suit.

Ika Ardina, 38, an office manager and mother who lives on the outskirts of Jakarta, was upset with hearing the news a mother ended up in jail because she complained. At first she contacted members of a online mother’s group she recently joined but this didn’t result into any action. Things really started off when she created the afore-mentioned cause page on Facebook. On the power of social networks she commented:

“I never thought it was going to have this impact. I was just trying to find a way to channel my anger over this injustice we’d witnessed”

Many others have lauded the power of virtual online communities but the very same power has also brought Prita into trouble. She said:

“I am confident that technology, such as the Internet and Facebook can lead to good things — but it can also lead to bad things, like my case for example. I am still traumatized by my three weeks in jail. I used to be active on the Internet and on my FB account, but not after this,”


63 Comments on “Prita Mulyasari & Digital People Power”

  1. avatar oigal says:

    In fact, I do acknowledge your point

    but you see every day when I drive home (not a driver but me) I drive past a great monolithic spawling obnoxious cluster of buildings on who know how many hectares dedicated to the fine upstanding law enforcement officers and then past the Regents very (ahem) office…and then past two schools who have not seen a lick of paint or roof repairs for as long as I have been around…and your point seems kind of silly and sad really..

    and thats the trouble with real life and your world

  2. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:


    We’re beyond that now…

    I’m gonna push for the Oigal Blueprint for Clean Water By June 2010

    Or, if you like, Oigal Blueprint for Free Education

    In, say, 500 words – enough ? Just an executive summary. Specifying

    Construction Plans
    National vs Local Responsibility
    Accountability for funds
    Quality Control

    Then we invite experts in the field to comment !

  3. avatar Oigal says:

    Up to it ..yeah…In fact doing it for real in our own small way ..(both water and septic). Despite what you say..its not rocket science (to start anyway). Happy to provide the blueprint, whats it worth to you I am afterall an economic refugee and I don’t respect you enough to give it away.

    Think septic tanks, think water tanks, think schools..

  4. avatar Oigal says:

    Show me the money!

    Experts in the field…I thought you already knew everything

  5. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:


    Like I said, will push for a 500 word (more if you like) post from you, a policy statement, on fixing one of the problems you mentioned, on Indonesia Matters.

    You’re a caring guy, its a widely-read Blog. Here’s an opportunity for you to get some of those solutions out there. Not respecting me enough, fine. Surely you respect readers of IM.

    I’m sure you’re up to it, aren’t you ?

  6. avatar oigal says:

    Would love to and perhaps might..but tht would take a degree of time and thought that I just don’t have right now, I more immediate issues that affect peoples lives . I am sure you understand dealing with you requires little effort or thought as you never penertrate beyond the superficial. However, if I lose the current battle myself and many others will have all the time in the world to play with your fanasty..

    but for now nope..

  7. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Ok, Oigal, when push comes to shove, you’re not up to it. If you do ever grow a pair and put some pictels when your mouth is, I promise not to comment for at least a week or so.

  8. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    No sack, Oigal.

  9. avatar Oigal says:

    Oooh Ouch…Insults from under the Sarong

    ..fair enough and when I do get a sack (not real good with the slang are you, where did you go to school?) you have to front up to people like the woman in the article and explain to her that her plight really just is bad luck in the bigger picture coz some things just aren’t doable..although not sure what why the ASSMAD thousand year plan prohibits someone from requesting their own medical records.

    P.S. Don’t you think we have nored the rest of IM enough yet>?

  10. avatar kiwibali says:

    P.S. Don’t you think we have nored the rest of IM enough yet>?

    nope. quite enjoyed the back and forth aeh. quite entertaining.

  11. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Not really, Oigal.

    Non-commital Bule judgements without specific solutions is huge in Indonesia’s relations with the outside world. We’ve had a bit of a debate, but when pushed to commit to specific actions… well, it’s on the record. Fair enough about other commitments. Maybe another day. I’ll drop it for now.

  12. avatar Oigal says:

    Non-commital Bule judgements without specific solutions is huge in Indonesia’s relations with the outside world.

    Couple of problems with that..

    You are not shy of making judgements yourself, inane as they may be and the Bule ..well come on..

    Happy to debate but now you want a policy paper..yet refused to offer anything up yourslelf other than the vague it takes time to make the thousand year egg.

    Having said that it might be fun but would take far more time than I have right now to do properly

    Still it would be an interesting excercise, to for instance cost out the implementation of Septic tanks region by region (forget Jakarta the septic is has already morphed into other life forms). But lets imagine one years govt revenue from Freeport doesn’t disappear in the mysts of government coffers but is paid into the region in Septic and rainwater tanks.

  13. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Just give us what you got, now, Oigal.

    I promise to stay out of the mix for as long as you want.


  14. avatar Oigal says:

    Can’t AM, about to do a runner…in the meantime cast your mind back (sorry do some reading) on the depression in australia..lots to be dying of disease, no money for schools, unemployment through the roof.

  15. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Grow a sack, Oigal.

  16. avatar Lairedion says:

    Thanks for generating so many comments on my thread. 🙂

  17. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Why don’t you grow a sack, Lairedion ?

  18. avatar Odinius says:

    Achmad said:

    As for Prita, yes, sad and bad, and annoying for her. But there are bigger problems out there. The whole phenomenon is more interesting, as Lairdie, pointed out for what is says about social networks and emerging middle class identity than Prita’s problems.

    For a long time Indonesia had the highest under-five mortality rate in Southeast Asia – a tragedy that mainly afflicts villages. How many facebook support groups are there for that ? Of course, dead kids never make “schools of international standards,” do they, Oigal ?

    Bit of a red herring, that.

    Yes, it is unfortunate that she is in jail, and yes there are worse things going on in Indonesia that the jailing of one woman, but the essential injustice of the defamation and libel laws are, in fact, a “bigger problem.”

    Any set of laws that restrict the people’s right to hold powerful institutions accountable necessarily enhances the ability of those institutions to engage in a broad set of exploitative practices, reaching far beyond the particulars of the case at hand.

    Accountability is an essential part of democracy, and Indonesians appear to be demanding it. Prita Mulyasari’s case is simply the flashpoint and catalyst for much-needed change.

  19. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Hi Odinius,

    Yes, injustice to the middle classes.

    A bigger injustice faces the very poor – those who can’t access IM. I’m sure Prita would agree.

  20. avatar Odinius says:

    It’s actually an injustice to anyone who uses such medical services, yet cannot exercise the right to accountability. Botched appendectomy kills your father? Your baby dies in birth due to malpractice? Don’t bother telling anyone about it, because you might go to jail!

    Time to put this Orde Baru anachronism where it belongs…in the squatters hole of history.

  21. avatar Rob says:

    Is it really a misinterpretation of the law? Or, was this what the DPR had in mind in the first place?

    Defamation is on the books in most countries. Generally, it is a civil matter, but even countries like Australia still have criminal defamation on the Statute books.

    The best defense against an allegation of defamation is truth. The problem for Prita will be proving the truth of what she has written. If she can, then she is home and hosed, she must be released of the charge.

    Is this issue a freedom of speech or expression test case? Probably not, if I am not mistaken the relevant article, Art. 27, has withstood a Constitutional Court challenge.

  22. avatar Odinius says:

    Most countries may have defamation laws, but they are not all the same. The British one, for example, is much broader than the American one. In the US, someone who claims defamation has to prove both that the claim is unfounded, that the defendant made the claim as a “statement of fact” and that the defendant made the claim deliberately in public.

    Change “statement of fact” to an allegation and it’s no longer libelous.

    E.g. if you said “the hospital kills babies,” and it had never been cited for such, that would be defamation. but if you said “the hospital has been accused of killing babies,” then it’s not legall defamation.

    This strikes me as fair.

    Indonesia’s defamation laws, on the other hand, appear way over the top, to the point where you cannot relate your own opinions about a place through private correspondence. This essentially butchers accountability and gives power to powerful institutions rather than individuals and the people

  23. avatar Rob says:

    @ Odinius…

    Indeed they are not all the same.

    Let’s use the Prita case as an example.

    Did she make “Statements of Fact” or were they mere allegations?

    Is her ‘alleged’ correspondence to a mailing list indicative of private correspondence or was it deliberate, calculated, and made publicly?

    I am not arguing about accountability here, but rather the interpretation of the law and the statement that the provisions are over the top. This is because in a very simplified analysis the idea of defamation in Indonesia is not too different from what you quote the US idea to be.

    Accountability is necessary and more accountability in Indonesia would not go astray. However, you will find that even in countries like the US, Australia, or the UK, the freedom of speech and expression to defame or slander is not absolute under the guise of accountability. The reality is that if the basic elements are satisfied then defamation can be proven. Where the elements are not met, then the alleged defamation is not proved and the charge is tossed.

    By the way, Prita’s defense would be that the essence of her claim is that which she has relayed as a statement of fact, is true. And, therefore the hospital would be required to prove that what has been asserted by Prita as a matter of fact, is not true.

  24. avatar Odinius says:

    According to the article posted here, she emailed her friends, one of whom then made the email public. If so, it’s private correspondence. Is that not the case?

  25. avatar Astrajingga says:

    Yes, it was started with a private correspondence, but then it probably was intended, probably was not, Prita’s email spreads out from one mailing list to another, and that’s where Omni started to build their case.

    Unfortunately, our KUHP (criminal code) can sue and punish Prita (or everyone in her position) as the source of ‘defamation’, although it’s not her who distributing, spreading, and making it widely noticed by the public. Other who helped her can be considered as ‘accessories’ of the crime.

    A man giving his opinion to a journalist, then if the editor decided to print it in a magazine, or aired it through TV, can also be sued and punished with KUHP/criminal code, unfortunately. Same thing happens for ‘letter to editor’ writer. The KUHP can sue and punish the source of information, the journalist, the editors, and the publishing company; everyone that is considered involved in the defamation.

    Many of Indonesian powerfuls, riches, and bullies have an army of lawyers who knows this to make complainers and protesters really learn the lesson the hardway (kapok). If you’re weak, poor, if you don’t have connection to the elites, if you don’t have good lawyers, if you can’t gather support from bloggers and facebookers: “Don’t speak!”

    Even some not so weak not so poor journalists/editors with not so bad lawyers lost the case in court, and some of them has to go to jail/do some probation time or paid billion dollar fine (ganti rugi materal/immaterial). The three judges in the court bribed? Um.. well, no one has ever proved it, so I won’t give my opinion about this. I don’t wanna be the next Prita. I mean, I don’t mind being jailed for speaking my honest opinion, it’s the publicity I can’t stand.

    In many countries defamation is put in civil law (perdata) instead of criminal (pidana). And I read somewhere that in one country, only non-profit institution and small for-profit company who has less than 10 employees can sue someone/an institution for defamation. I think it’s in Australia.

  26. avatar Et says:

    A man giving his opinion to a journalist, then if the editor decided to print it in a magazine, or aired it through TV, can also be sued and punished with KUHP/criminal code, unfortunately.

    If someone overhears a private conversation with contents that may be interpreted as defamation, can the participants in this conversation also be held liable according to the KUHP?

    Better keep our nicknames and identities hidden and protected here in IM.

    ‘Thought police’ is the next step and the wet dream of those in power.

  27. avatar Astrajingga says:

    If someone overhears a private conversation with contents that may be interpreted as defamation, can the participants in this conversation also be held liable according to the KUHP?

    As long as it can be proven in the court, if it’s recorded, or if there’re several witnesses to confirm, for example, it can. Someone insults you, and you don’t like it, you can report him/her to police. Bring your witnesses with you. Beside defamation, you can also sue him/her for unpleasant act/perbuatan tidak menyenangkan.

    What is unpleasant act? Almost everything.

    You can say that the law is kurang kerjaan/like there’s nothing more important to do, but yes, that’s the KUHP.

  28. avatar Lex dePraxis says:

    … a website dedicated to the cause is sometimes unreachable because of heavy traffic.

    Whats the website URL/name?

  29. avatar Astrajingga says:

    Is it really a misinterpretation of the law? Or, was this what the DPR had in mind in the first place?

    This is what the DPR had in mind, well, most of them. In the process of the law making a lot of journalists, activists, freedom-fighters begged DPR to wipe out defamation from criminal law (KUHP), from ITE law.

    But what kind of law would be enacted is really up to DPR, not those ‘beggars.’ You can see clearly, who needs the protection from defamation? Those in power or most Indonesian peoples? And this also shows who DPR members really represents.

  30. avatar choi says:

    Do you guys all know that the PR personnel involved in Prita case was just kicked out from Siloam hospital several months before? He messed up with many customers in Siloam and got fired. Then, he ended up in Omni.

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