Patient cleared of defaming hospital in Indonesia

AP News
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Posted: Dec 29, 2009 10:57 AM

An Indonesian housewife who was arrested after she publicized her complaints about bad treatment at a private hospital was acquitted of criminal defamation charges Tuesday by a court.

Prita Mulyasari had been charged with violating Indonesia's 2008 Electronic Information and Transactions Law, by widely circulating an e-mail on the Internet claiming that Omni International hospital staff had misdiagnosed her case of the mumps as dengue fever. Omni denied any misdiagnosis.

In its verdict, a three-member judge panel at the Tangerang District Court ruled Tuesday that Mulyasari was not proven guilty of insult or defamation, a crime punishable by up to six years in prison in Indonesia.

The panel classified the e-mail as "constructive criticism for public interest and was merely a warning for people against bad medical treatment."

Mulyasari, a 32-year-old mother of two has become a national symbol for the plight of the little person after the hospital both sued her in civil court and filed a criminal defamation complaint with police over her e-mail.

Mulyasari was arrested in May last year and locked up for three weeks. Her case caught the attention of former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who was making an unsuccessful bid to return to office. She made a public prison visit, and Mulyasari was released soon after.

Prosecutors, who had demanded a six-month jail for Mulyasari, said they will study the verdict first before deciding whether to appeal it.

In the civil lawsuit, a court ruled in the hospital's favor on Dec. 4 and ordered Mulyasari to pay 204 million rupiah ($22,000) in damages for Omni and two of its doctors.

Mulyasari has become a media personality, and the public has donated more than 600 million rupiah ($63,000) to pay the fine.

But a Jakarta law firm representing her pro bono has appealed the civil lawsuit to the Supreme Court and lodged a countersuit, seeking 1 trillion rupiah ($106 million) compensation.