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Indonesia court throws out Facebook defamation case

Prita Mulyasari in Tangerang, near Jakarta, Indonesia, with coin donations, 9 Dec 09
Prita Mulyasari wept on receipt of donations from across the nation

An Indonesian court has thrown out a hospital's criminal defamation case against a mother-of-two whose e-mail complaint appeared on Facebook.

Prita Mulysari had e-mailed friends to say the hospital had misdiagnosed her. Her complaint was then posted on other internet sites without her knowledge.

The Omni International Hospital filed civil and criminal defamation charges against the 32-year-old bank worker.

The case sparked huge controversy in Indonesia and she gained wide support.

She wept and people in the courtroom cheered when the panel of judges dismissed the hospital's complaint.

People power

"The e-mail sent by the defendant doesn't contain any defamation. It constitutes criticism so the public will be protected from mistreatment by any hospital or doctor," the judges said in their ruling.

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

"I can't believe this. This is the power of God," Ms Mulysari told local MetroTv shortly after the court announced its ruling, which was broadcast live on television.

"From the beginning, I believed there would be an end to this problem. God never sleeps," she said, adding that justice had been done.

"It never crossed my mind that I would end up in court over an e-mail I sent to friends."

If found guilty, Ms Mulysari could have faced up to six years in jail.

She had already spent three weeks in jail without charge, while still breast-feeding her second child, following her arrest on 13 May.

Public donations

The hospital earlier this month offered to drop its civil charge against Ms Mulysari if she apologised.

But she opted instead to challenge the fine of 204 million rupiah ($21,400, £13,320) - much more than a year's salary for most Indonesians - in the Supreme Court.

That court decision has not yet been reached, but donations worth $50,000 so far have been collected to help her if necessary.

If she does not have to pay the fine, she says she will donate the money to charity.

Ms Mulysari's e-mail to 20 friends, telling them the hospital had misdiagnosed her with dengue fever when she had mumps, was posted on the Facebook social networking site and elsewhere without her knowledge.

A Facebook support group of 100,000 then prompted donations from across the nation, often from poor people able to contribute only small coins.

Taufik Basari, a human rights lawyer from the People's Legal Aid Foundation, told AFP news agency that the case illustrated a deep "imbalance" in favour of the rich and powerful at the heart of Indonesia's legal system.

"The powerless people, either politically or economically weak, are always at a disadvantage. There's always unequal treatment for them. This is supported by the corrupt behaviour of law enforcers," he said.



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