Indonesians Donate Truckload of Coins to Help Facebook Mum

by VR Sreeraman on  December 13, 2009 at 3:20 PM Lifestyle News
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From Aceh to Bali, Indonesians have donated a truckload of coins in support of a woman jailed for criticising health care provision in an email to friends.

In a nationwide cause celebre the money has been gathered to help Prita Mulyasari, 32, pay a fine of 204 million rupiah (21,400 dollars) after she was convicted of defamation by a local court on the outskirts of Jakarta.

Indonesians were so touched that volunteers began collecting money on the streets, in offices and in kindergartens and publishing details on the social networking site Facebook, demonstrating how the web can now mobilize people scattered across this vast archipelago.

"This is the first time Indonesians acted to help someone by giving their coins," volunteer Esti Gunawan said. "We feel sorry for her. As a mother, I feel that I would also need tremendous help if I were in her position."

The ongoing saga of Prita began last year when the bank employee and mother-of-two sent an informal email to 20 friends and colleagues informing them of her poor treatment at Omni International Hospital outside Jakarta.

Prita, who had been misdiagnosed with dengue fever at the hospital, found after being moved to another institution that she in fact had mumps.

Her email was transferred without her knowledge from one mailing list to another in cyberspace before being tracked by the Omni hospital, which filed a complaint.

Prita, who was still breastfeeding her second child, was sent to jail in May and charged by prosecutors with defamation, which can carry a jail term of up to six years.

She was freed after 21 days, having promised not to abscond or destroy evidence, amid a huge outcry from the media, bloggers, and politicians, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Public anger was initially stirred by means of a Facebook group.

The saga took a new twist last week as a high court, upholding a lower court ruling in a civil suit filed against Prita by the hospital, ordered her to pay 204 million rupiah in damages.

A group of bloggers then started the "Help Prita" movement to help her pay the fine, a sum well beyond her financial means, and soon collection points appeared around the country.

At the latest count, six tonnes of coins had been collected.

"Me and my family never expected this," Prita said.

"The donation is a symbol from the Indonesian people that they are ready to help and cooperate with each other. I'm blessed and thankful because suddenly I feel that I'm not alone," she told AFP.

People from all backgrounds had donated, she noted, saying: "People from beggars to buskers have coins."

A blogger who helped organize the effort, Wicaksono, explained: "We want to help because we feel a sense of justice has been disturbed."

A concert for Prita is also on the way in the capital and several local musicians have pledged to participate.

"If I win the case on appeal and don't have to pay the fine, I'll return the money to the coordinators or donate them again. There are many people who need help in the country's remote places," Prita said.

Omni Hospital, its reputation somewhat tarnished by the episode, proposed this week dropping its civil suit if Prita agreed a settlement.

But even if they do reach agreement, she still faces the prospect of a prison sentence in the criminal case, in which a prosecutor has requested she be jailed for six months.

"My wish after this case is over is that there will be an improvement in the legal sector here," she said, adding that once the fuss had died down, she hoped to become anonymous again.

Source: AFP

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