Case of Prita Mulyasari

Prita Mulyasari:

Young Mother Imprisoned for Criticizing Hospital


Deserving position at the top of the case list is the story of Prita Mulyasari, a 32 year-old mother with two young children who was imprisoned on criminal charges for writing a private email criticising the medical treatment she received at Omni Hospital.


The case...

In 2008 Prita checked into the upscale Omni Hospital in Jakarta with a rapidly rising fever. The doctors diagnosed her with dengue fever and began treatment. But as her condition worsened over the next two days and the doctors gave increasingly opaque explanations, Prita's family checked her out of Omni and moved her to another hospital. There she was diagnosed with mumps and given proper treatment.

Feeling that her complaint directly to Omni Hospital had been ignored and belittled by the hospital administration, Prita wrote about her experience in an email and sent it to twenty friends. The email was private, but one of her friends sent it on to other friends, and from there it spread over the internet until it eventually came to the attention of the doctors at Omni Hospital.

The original email is HERE, thanks to a translation by Ryan Koesuma.

Omni Hospital reported Prita to the police, and in May 2009 the Public Prosecutor charged her under Articles 310 and 311 of the Criminal Code regarding defamation and Article 27 of the ITE [Electronic Information and Transactions, 2008] Law. She faced a maximum prison sentence of six years and fines of up to IDR 1 billion (USD 10 million).

Prita was arrested and imprisoned, but the case began to draw public attention. Rallies and internet campaigns put pressure on the court, and after three weeks in prison, Prita was released pending her trial scheduled for 5 June.

As the case grew, nearly 400,000 people signed up in support on Facebook. A campaign "Coins for Prita" collected over IDR 100 million (USD 95,000) to cover her legal expenses. Prominent lawyers came to her defense, and presidential candidates announced their support.

At the trial the judges threw out the criminal charges on the grounds that the ITE Law did not properly apply to the situation.

But Omni Hospital also brought a civil case against her. In that case, the court found against her and ordered Prita to pay Rp 312 million (USD 37,000) to Omni for damages. Prita appealed but the High Court upheld the decision, though reducing it to Rp 204 million. Prita appealed again to the Supreme Court, and this time the Supreme Court quashed the damages verdict.

The criminal case was not ended, however. As the internet campaign died down and media attention moved on, the prosecutors waited. Prita now had three children at home, the youngest still nursing. In July 2011 the prosecutors appealed the criminal case to the Supreme Court. This time they won, and the court returned a guilty verdict. As a flurry of publicity threatened to break loose again, the court explained that they were ordering a suspended sentence.

In a final Extraordinary Appeal (Peninjauan Kembali) in September 2012, the Supreme Court announced that they were overturning the earlier guilty decision.


Other articles about Prita Mulyasari are available here:


The significance...

The HukumOnline article above makes the point:

Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) applauded MA’s [Supreme Court, or Mahkamah Agung] decision. ICJR stated that the decision should be considered as a landmark for improving the Indonesian legal system and a historical moment for Indonesians’ freedom of expression.

ICJR asserted that the decision provided a sigh for relief for the public to openly convey their opinions, information, and expression, especially on the Internet.


That conclusion seems highly optimistic. The Inside Indonesia article comes to a different conclusion:

[T]he social media campaign, and the public debate which followed, has not resulted in reform to criminal defamation laws. Despite the fact that criminal defamation laws were so robustly opposed at the height of the Mulyasari case by major political figures, the laws (both the Criminal Code offence and the new 2009 offence) remain largely unreformed. In fact, they continue to be used to charge bloggers and other internet users in Indonesia.

Mulyasari’s experience shows that new social media can rapidly bring issues of injustice to the public’s attention through small simple messages and images.. However, social media activism to date in Indonesia, so focused on short messages and rapid responses to new cases, often lacks the longevity and depth required to instigate systemic legal reforms. As Mulyasari’s case shows, once the initial hype over a particular case looses currency, and the social media ‘conversation’ moves on, the difficult, complex and longer term goal of creating law reform remains unresolved.


Prita's case was a close-run thing, and she escaped prison only through massive and unusual public attention. Relying on mass media campaigns to secure justice is unrealistic for most people.

In an earlier chapter concerning the Lanjar case, we pointed out the importance of saving face for the legal institutions. And in another chapter about Legal Institutions and elsewhere we discussed the importance for those institutions to be seen demonstrating power.

The Prita case was a huge black eye for the police, prosecutors, and courts. But in the end they did succeed in asserting their independence, despite opposition from leading political figures, experts on law, and the public. Declaring Prita guilty of criminal defamation despite the uproar against them was a victory, making clear their apparent determination that neither government reformers nor public opinion could sway the institutions of the law.

The announcement of a suspended sentence, and the final anti-climactic dismissal of charges on Extraordinary Appeal, appear a practical compromise. Their authority was clear, and now they showed clemency.

We have also discussed weak precident in the Indonesian system of Civil Law. The ultimate acquital of charges against Prita does not establish future law. The laws are still on the books and can still be enforced.

The Caveat article discusses this in detail and draws many important conclusions, including:


In Indonesia’s legal system, defamation is not clearly defined. As the Criminal Code is essentially a document from the era of colonial rule, most of the articles in place on defamation have not been updated and essentially act as a way for the ruling government to limit freedom of expression and speech.

The most alarming realisation to emerge from the ordeal surrounding Prita Mulyasari’s arrest is that the legal system, particularly laws regarding defamation, is still being wielded to serve those in power at the expense of ordinary individuals.


If you are Indonesian, this is not news. Despite democracy, Indonesians still face severe restrictions to free speech when trying to obtain justice.

If you are an expatriate, you probably talk too much. The essence is contained in a blog I wrote on Criminal Libel or Fitnah. Indonesians have lived through generations of repression from colonialism and dictatorship. In fact, repression is exactly why the criminal laws on fitnah exist in the first place; Indonesians are a little more practiced at keeping their mouths shut.

But expatriates feel it their right to spout off and complain about collusion and corruption. It's a stupid idea. It gets you nowhere, but it is a wonderful opportunity for a criminal complaint. Few expatriates last long in Indonesia after that.

If you are an expatriate with a big mouth, the only case you are ever likely to see in court is your criminal trial for fitnah.