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Page last updated at 14:25 GMT, Thursday, 4 June 2009 15:25 UK

Indonesia e-mail case sparks fury

Prita Mulyasari (left) is visited by Megawati Sukarnoputri at a woman's jail in Tangerang on 3/5/09
Prita Mulyasari (left) was visited in jail by ex-President Megawati Sukarnoputri

An Indonesian mother who complained about her hospital treatment in an e-mail to friends has been charged with defamation and could face a jail term.

Prita Mulyasari has already been found guilty and fined in a civil case. She faces six years in jail and a hefty fine if convicted on criminal charges.

Omni International Hospital took action after her comments about her treatment were widely circulated on the internet.

The case is big news in Indonesia with many thousands calling for her release.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - in the middle of an election campaign - has urged the courts to be lenient, while his predecessor and election rival, Megawati Sukarnoputri, has visited Prita Mulyasari in jail.

'Dangerous precedent'

The case centres on e-mails Prita Mulyasari, a 32-year-old mother of two, sent detailing her experience as a patient at Omni hospital to 10 friends.

According to the Jakarta Globe, she said staff initially diagnosed her with dengue fever, but later said she had a virus and gave her an injection.

She said her conditioned worsened and she began to feel numbness so decided to switch hospitals. But when she asked for her medical notes with the initial diagnosis, the hospital refused to give them to her, she alleged.

The e-mails were widely circulated on internet mailing lists and the Facebook social networking site.

Omni hospital said her allegations had caused the firm substantial financial losses from patient boycotts and frozen business deals.

"The defendant has deliberately spread a document containing an act of defamation through the internet," prosecutor Rahmawati Utami told the court where she was charged.

But her supporters - nearly 100,000 of whom have signed a Facebook appeal for her release - say it could set a dangerous precedent for freedom of speech in the country.

The growing outrage over the case led to Prita Mulyasari's release from custody on Wednesday, where she had spent three weeks without charge after losing the civil case in mid-May.

She has been ordered not to leave Jakarta until the criminal trial.

The bank worker also faces a fine of $100,000 (£62,000) if convicted on criminal charges. She has already been fined $30,000 under the civil code, says AFP news agency.



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