Blogs 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.
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,”