Monday, March 30, 2020

COVID-19 Threatens Indonesia’s Overcrowded Prisons

Release Wrongfully Detained Prisoners, Seek Alternatives for At-Risk Detainees

Andreas Harsono
Indonesia Researcher

As the Indonesian government battles the COVID-19 outbreak – calling on Indonesians to respect physical distancing, closing schools and offices, even emptying the streets – a Jakarta court has continued to hold weekly trial sessions of six West Papuan activists charged with “treason.”

The 5 men and 1 woman, along with more than 50 other activists in separate trials nationwide, were caught up in a government crackdown following Papuan protests in August 2019 and are being held for peaceful acts of free expression.

Indonesia is now facing a surge in coronavirus cases. The Health Ministry recorded 1,414 coronavirus cases with 122 deaths on March 30. The data undoubtedly understates the scale of infections because of a low rate of testing, and least 10 doctors have died battling the outbreak.

Meanwhile, Indonesian prisons and detention centers are bursting at the seams. As of March 23, the country’s prisons and detention centers held almost 270,000 inmates, more than double the total capacity.

The Indonesian authorities should take steps to curb the spread of COVID-19 in its overcrowded prisons. First is to immediately release all those wrongfully held behind bars, including all Papua political prisoners.

The Ministry of Law and Human Rights, which manages prisons, should also look at alternatives to custody or consider early releases or parole for detainees who are near the end of their prison terms or who pose little security risk, such as those imprisoned for unpaid fines. Those with underlying health conditions and older people at high risk of suffering serious effects from the virus should be given priority.

The United Development Party, a member of the ruling coalition, already asked the government to release drug users and small-time drug sellers as well as other minor case prisoners, especially in overcrowded prisons. The Ministry of Law and Human Rights should provide appropriate information on hygiene and supplies and ensure all areas accessible to prisoners, prison staff, and visitors are disinfected regularly.

The government ought to develop plans for housing prisoners exposed to the virus in individual medical isolation. Indonesia’s government should also drop unnecessary trials prosecuting peaceful Papuan activists, like the one in Jakarta.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Harry Santoso died with the coronavirus infection in Jakarta

“He’s the best Dad I could ever ask for. He is very loving, and he never complains. He helped me in every possible way he could throughout his life, especially in making me closer to God. He was there to celebrate every milestone I achieved, and I know, he will always be here spiritually for my future.”

Jessie Renata, Harry Santoso's daughter, wrote about her father.

My college friend, Harry Santoso, died at a North Jakarta hospital on Thursday, March 26, after being hospitalized for five nights, with a lab confirming only earlier that Thursday that he had the coronavirus infection, his wife Indra Dewi said.

He began to feel sick –stomachache, dizziness, fever, nausea-- on March 12. He consulted his brother and nephew, who happened to be doctors themselves, diagnosing him to have typhoid. He slowed down but still helped work at his food vendor in the Sarinah mall, downtown Jakarta, on March 13, driving to buy and deliver supplies.

“Not many people wore masks then,” said Dewi.

On March 21, he decided to check in at the Pantai Indah Kapuk hospital, having a blood test, an X-ray and finally a CT scan. The doctors suspected he had contacted the coronavirus. They took his swab sample and sent it to the Ministry of Health lab (Balitbangkes). The hospital also immediately put him in the isolation ward.

Harry Santoso with wife Indra Dewi and their two children when celebrating their daughter's birthday.

His wife and two children could not get physically close to him since then. They only chatted with WhatsApp. The lab sent the result on March 26 and Harry died later that evening. Dewi only saw her husband’s body, via a video, before he was put inside a plastic bag. The three also isolated themselves, at home in Pantai Mutiara, North Jakarta, but they tested negative, still waiting for their second rapid test.

Coronavirus victims, like Harry, faced their deaths alone. He was buried at the Tegar Alur cemetery on March 27 without any ceremony, without any family member.

Today I checked the government website and saw seven confirmed virus cases in his Pluit district, North Jakarta. Harry might be the coronavirus case number 478 although Indra Dewi cannot confirm it. The website only says that positive patient is a 54-year-old man.

Dewi told me Harry was isolated with four other men, all coughing heavily. Female patients were isolated in another ward. This fact made me more cautious of the government’s data.

Indonesia is now facing a surge in coronavirus cases. The Health Ministry recorded 893 coronavirus cases on March 27 but the data is widely seen by health experts as understating the scale of infections because of a low rate of testing and a high mortality rate at 78 deaths --the highest in Southeast Asia. At least 10 Indonesian doctors have also died battling the outbreak with minimum protection, according to the Indonesian Medical Association.

Harry Santoso was born in Solo, Central Java, in 1966. He comes from an ethnic Chinese family, speaking Javanese fluently, like most Chinese in Central Java. I met Harry in 1984 when we began our engineering school at the Satya Wacana Christian University in Salatiga, Central Java. We went our separate ways after graduation.

Tantik Rahayu, another 1984 classmate, told me that Harry initially worked at PT Intikom Berlian Mustika, a part of the Salim Group. In 1994, when he married Indra Dewi, whose family owned the “Tayang Suki” restaurant, he began to enter the food industry. They set up the “Gading Aroma” seafood restaurant in Kelapa Gading area. We regularly met over the last two decades, mostly for the school reunion.

“Harry never got angry even when we get joked about him. Only a wry smile, always smiling. He never hurt his friends,” said Tantik.

In August 2016, I found in my Google Agenda that I had a lunch appointment with him plus Suwanto Gunawan, another classmate, in Harry’s restaurant. We chatted about our families, our works, but Suwanto talked about his plan to retire early, becoming a missionary in remote Papuan villages. Suwanto is a devout Evangelical Christian.

Indra Dewi remembered her husband’s devotion to their Catholic church, almost having daily prayers at their Stella Maris church, near Pantai Mutiara.

Jessie Renata, their daughter, wrote to me, “He’s the best Dad I could ever ask for. He is very loving, and he never complains. He helped me in every possible way he could throughout his life, especially in making me closer to God. He was there to celebrate every milestone I achieved, and I know, he will always be here spiritually for my future.”

They closed the seafood restaurant, setting up an outlet in the Sarinah mall earlier this year. Dewi suspected her husband got the infection prior to March 12. It could be have been at a supermarket like Superindo, at a traditional market or at the Sarinah,” said Dewi.

Dewi said the talk among her relatives, which include eight doctors, suspected that Jakarta had thousands of coronavirus cases. The official data is not able to cope with the reality in many Jakarta’s clinics and hospitals.

In February 2019, Harry Santoso (second left) visited a funeral home to pay his last respect to Suwanto Gunawan, another 1984 classmate, who died a day earlier. Suwanto was the first to die in our class. Now Harry is the second. 

Our last meeting was in February 2019 when we visited a funeral home in North Jakarta, paying our last respect to Suwanto Gunawan, the classmate, who died one day earlier because of a heart attack. Suwanto was the first to die in our class. Harry is the second. This coronavirus outbreak seems to be very personal now.

Harry is survived by his wife, two children –Jessie and her brother Jeffrey Renardi-- and two siblings, Dewi Tresnawati Santoso, who lives in Sweden, and Yudi Santoso, who lives in Canada.

Dewi wants to remember her husband as “a very simple person, very loving and serving his family and bringing us to be closer and rely on God in our lives.”

I remember him fondly today, and my love and thoughts are with his family.