Jerome Taylor: Housewife who beat a bullying hospital

Jakarta Notebook: Indonesians across the archipelago have begun a "Coins for Priti" campaign
Click to follow
The Independent Online

There's a common saying in Indonesia that goes: "If you can't afford it, don't get ill." Perhaps another caveat should now also be added: "If you can't afford it, don't complain."

Indonesians are currently transfixed by a David and Goliath battle that has made ordinary citizens acutely aware of how their legal system often falls down heavily on the poor while turning a blind eye to the excesses of the country's political and financial elite.

On one side is Prita Mulyasari, a lowly housewife from Jakarta who dared to write a letter to friends criticising the treatment she received at one of the country's top medical facilities. On the other is the hospital itself, Omni International, which opted for the sledgehammer approach and took Mrs Mulyasari to court for defamation – successfully suing her for 204 million rupiah (£12,800) in a country where the average annual salary is just £2,440.

Omni International's lawyers hoped the case would end there. But something remarkable has happened. Using social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook, Indonesians across the archipelago have begun a "Coins for Priti" campaign asking people to send in as many 100 rupiah coins (6p) as they can afford. The coins have poured in, with contributions from trash collectors and fellow housewives to taxi drivers and idealistic students, raising four times more than Mrs Mulyasari owes in defamation charges and hitting Omni International with the mother of all PR disasters.

The hospital has since backed down and has said it will not ask for the damages. But swelled with her war chest of coins, Mrs Mulyasari has vowed to overturn the verdict. Yesterday a court threw out a criminal case against her that could have landed her in jail. Her next stop is an appeal against the civil damages in the Supreme Court. If she wins that case she has promised to give all the coins to charity.

Islamists ban blockbuster

Religion in Indonesia is as varied and mixed as Indonesians themselves, but generally the world's most populous Muslim nation has leant towards a tolerant and accommodating form of Islam that respects dissent and disagreement. But every now and then a local Islamic court comes out with a judgment that makes most ordinary Indonesians roll their eyes in frustration. In Malang city, eastern Java, clerics have banned the end-of-world-epic film 2012 because, they argue, only Allah can decide when Judgment Day will arrive. "You have to laugh really," says Soni, a friend who runs a hotel in Jakarta. "I'd never heard of 2012 until talk of the ban. Now I want to see it. I wonder how many others are thinking the same thing?"

Comments