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Prita Must Go to Jail, Prosecutors Say, Regardless of Her ‘Facebooker’ Fans

Just as Attorney General Hendarman Supandji announced plans to include Banten in a pilot project to reform state prosecutors offices, his men in the province on Wednesday demanded a six-month prison term for Prita Mulyasari, a mother of two who is being tried for defamation for writing an e-mail complaint about the care she received at an upscale hospital.

“We are handling a very difficult case because of the strong public opinion that the defendant is not guilty, regardless of the fact that the trial has not yet concluded,” said prosecutor Riyadi, who has been a major target of the public criticism, in his remarks as Prita’s second trial resumed.

“But justice must not bow to pressure just because the defendant has support from so many Facebookers or whatever,” he continued. “We recommend that the defendant, Prita Mulyasari, be found guilty of defamation and be sentenced to six months in jail.”

The requested sentence was far less severe than the six years prosecutors had initially wanted and as mandated by the controversial Information and Electronic Transactions (ITE) Law.

Prita, 32, is accused of defaming two doctors at Omni International Hospital in Tangerang by sending an e-mail to 20 people that described the doctors as unprofessional and impolite. “The damage to their reputations cannot be erased,” Riyadi said.

After the hearing on Wednesday, Prita said she was disappointed by prosecutor’s demand.

“I was a patient, so I reserve the right to make a complaint in regard to any bad treatment I have received at the hospital,” she said. “What did I do wrong?”

Nearly 400,000 people joined a Facebook support group for Prita after her plight was reported in local and national media this year. The case against her was initially thrown out in July, but the Tangerang District Court in August began to retry Prita after prosecutors successfully challenged the case’s dismissal.

Prita and the hospital agreed to seek an out of court settlement, but prosecutors, apparently embarrassed at having the case thrown out, insisted on trying her again in court.

“But at that time, Omni asked me to provide them with a written apology while giving no guarantee that they would never sue me,” Prita said. “I said no because the written document could be used as evidence against me in court.”

Prita’s lawyer, Slamet Yuwono, has asked for time to present his defense in court.

“The prosecutors are overreacting,” he said. “If someone is jailed for sending an e-mail, then thousands would be in danger.”

Wednesday’s quiet hearing was in stark contrast to Prita’s first appearance at the new trial, when hundreds of people, from housewives to students to human rights commissioners, packed the courthouse to support her.

The case stirred public outrage partly because Prita was detained for three weeks ahead of her first trial.

Prosecutors also drew fire over allegations that they had, without consulting the police, added charges using the ITE Law, which carries stiffer penalties for defamation than the Criminal Code.

In the initial weeks of the long-running trial, an internal investigation was ordered into alleged misconduct at the Banten prosecutors office.

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