Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

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@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Prita Mulyasari is a 32-year-old mother of two from Indonesia who was recently acquitted of defamation charges filed by the management of a private hospital.

The defamation suit was a reaction to an e-mail complaint sent by Prita to her friends and relatives about the bad service she received at Omni International Hospital in Tangerang. The letter was sent to 20 people in August 2008.

Prita wrote that she was misdiagnosed with dengue at Omni when she went to the hospital with high fever. She also complained about the unprofessional behavior of its doctors. After consulting a doctor in a different hospital, Prita found out that she had mumps, not dengue. Prita advised her friends not to visit Omni. Below is an excerpt of Prita’s open letter to her friends. The translation was made by Multiply blogger Koesuma:

“Don’t let my case happen to other lives especially children, elders and babies. Be careful of the hospital’s “international” title, because the more luxurious the hospital is, and the smarter the doctors are, the more frequent patients are subjected to lab tests, drug prescriptions and injections.

“It cost me my health. Maybe because the cost is covered with insurance that this hospital tried to reach my insurance limit as much as they could. But this hospital doesn’t care about the side effects of its greediness.

“May God give the management and doctors of Omni hospital a conscience to be reminded that someday they too will have family and children who will need medical attention. May they not endure what I had to go through at Omni hospital.”

Prita’s letter was widely circulated on the Internet. It even reached the management of Omni hospital. Because of her e-mail complaint, Prita was charged with defamation. It is peculiar that Omni’s lawyers accused Prita of violating the Information and Electronic Transaction Law, Indonesia’s Cyber Law, which will only take effect this year.

Prita was arrested last May and detained for three weeks. Her case was immediately reported by the media. Bloggers were outraged to learn that a nursing mother was jailed for sending an e-mail complaint. Due to public pressure, Prita was released from prison. It also helped that political candidates had been visiting her in jail.

Prita’s ordeal didn’t end in July when the court junked the case. Her doctors at Omni succeeded in convincing the prosecutors to challenge the ruling. Early last month, the Tangerang High Court found Prita guilty of defaming her doctors. The court ordered her to pay a fine of US$21,680. She was also given a jail sentence of six months.

Last week the court reversed its ruling and cleared Prita’s name. The court ruled that Prita didn’t commit an act of defamation because she merely sent a letter of complaint to select friends and relatives.

Prita’s legal battle has become a national issue in Indonesia. She became a symbol of an ordinary citizen who stood up and defended her rights against a big private corporation. Her trial put Indonesia’s justice system under intense public gaze and scrutiny.

Prita’s case triggered one of the most successful social media campaigns in the country. Facebook fan and advocacy pages in support of Prita attracted thousands of members. An online campaign was launched to collect the money needed to pay the court-imposed fine last month.

The Coins for Justice website was established to gather online and offline donations for Prita. Organizers wanted to collect 2.5 tons of coins. Donors came from everywhere. A former minister pledged US$10,000, or half the fine. Members of the Regional Representatives Council raised US$5,000. A fundraising concert was held. Before the end of December, the campaign had amassed almost US$90,000. The money will now be donated to a charity organization.

Bowing to public clamor, the government hinted that it was willing to review the controversial Cyber Law which was used in Prita’s case. This is good news for netizens who are appealing for a more democratic law that will govern Internet activities in the country.

It was the Internet that facilitated the spread of Prita’s famous e-mail complaint. It was also through the Internet that Prita’s Omni doctors were able to access the controversial letter. In the end, it was the Internet that helped Prita broadcast her appeal for justice and financial support. The Internet is an amazing but dangerous place.

By putting to shame the hospital which accused her of defamation, Prita has forced companies to reevaluate their standard procedures when accepting customer complaints. By refusing to back down in her legal fight, Prita proved that big companies do not always win in the courts.

One Response to “The story of Prita Mulyasari”

  1. […] the internet. But the laws are sometimes unjustly being used against the innocent. Case in point is Prita, a young housewife from Indonesia who was charged with defamation after she sent an email […]

    Mong Palatino » Blog Archive » Southeast Asia: Internet freedoms and unfreedoms

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