JAKARTA, INDONESIA - An Indonesian human rights group is monitoring what it describes as “degrading” punishments handed out to people who fail to comply with mandated anti-coronavirus social restrictions and mask wearing.
The punishments are unusual, such as forcing violators to spend time in an open coffin or dig graves, according to rights group Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS).
The group has recorded 10 cases of degrading punishments since stay-at-home orders were issued in April for several regions of Indonesia. The nation has the highest coronavirus death toll in Southeast Asia, with more than 10,300 deaths as of Saturday, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. Indonesia had more than 271,000 confirmed cases as of Saturday. In 2019, Indonesia had a population of 270.6 million, according to the World Bank.
Rivanlee Anandar, a KontraS staff member, told VOA Indonesia that the “degrading” punishments imposed by authorities in several regions included forcing violators to lie next to a coffin. National police officers, the staffer said, were used as well as members of the Indonesian National Military (TNI) to oversee the punishments.
Rivanlee said the group objected to the use of TNI members to control COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. He added that the military “should focus on national defense. … There [are] no indicators or instruments to measure the effectiveness of involving the military in handling the pandemic.”
"Their role in picking up people who have tested positive [for] COVID-19 is too much. In several malls, they even take people’s temperature,” Rivanlee added.
Clean sewers or pay fine
Evani Jesselyn, who owns a coffee shop in Jakarta, was told she could clean public sewers or pay a fine after she was pulled over for not wearing a mask in her car during her regular commute.
At the time, “I was alone, in the car, wearing my mask. However, suddenly I felt it was a bit hard to breathe, so I pulled my mask a bit to breathe some fresh air,” she said.
After being pulled over, Evani was sent immediately to a hearing. She spent an hour in a crowded hall waiting to see the judge.
"I was scared to jump into the crowd, and quite upset as well because I was alone inside the car and healthy and they asked me to go to the crowd with no social distancing,” she said.
Evani, who opted to pay the fine, told VOA Indonesian that she would like the government to clarify its regulation on health safety and provide better health education, including “explaining why the regulation exists.”
Arifin, the head of the Jakarta Provincial Public Order office, said while more people are aware of the need to wear face masks in public, police find some aren’t wearing them correctly.
“Some wear the mask under their chin or below their neck. This, of course, won’t prevent COVID-19 transmission,” Arifin, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, said in an online discussion on September 17.
He said his office was stepping up educational outreach on how to wear masks correctly.
That effort includes sanctioning those who violate the mandated mask rule, either by failing to wear a mask or wearing one incorrectly.
$162K in fines
Arifin said as many as 164,000 people have received sanctions ranging from fines to public service for wearing masks incorrectly.
The public order office has collected $162,843.79 in fines from the operation in a country where the per capita income was $4,135 in 2019, according to the World Bank.
National Police spokesman M. Hendra Suhartiyono said the police were helping regional governments contain the coronavirus as required by Operasi Yustisi, a nationwide effort to crack down on health protocol violations.
Hendra added that sanctions, such as public service, doing pushups and spending time with a coffin, are ideas originating with regional governments. “We have to uphold local wisdom.”
As reported by The Jakarta Post, these punishments include:
— Pulling weeds in local parks in Lhokseumawe in Aceh province.
— Running an 800-meter sprint under hot sun in the South Tangerang administration in Banten.
— Cleaning the banks of the Kalimalang River in Bekasi, West Java.
— Sitting in a hearse with casket at the Maron Market in East Java.
— Digging graves in a public cemetery in Ngabetan village in the Crenme district of East Java.
“There are only three available gravediggers at the moment, so I thought I might as well put these people to work with them,” Cerme district head Suyono was quoted as saying in the Post. “Hopefully, this can create a deterrent effect.”
Agus Pambagio, a public policy analyst, would like to see regional governments impose $68 fines for people who don’t wear masks.
“There are no countries in the world whose people are disciplined without being fined first. So, if you want people to have discipline, don’t just ‘advise’ them,” Agus Pambagio told VOA Indonesia.
Fines, not memos
He criticized the central government for issuing memos and ministerial regulations rather than working with the House of Representatives to institute a uniform schedule of fines.
The national COVID-19 Task Force and the Jakarta Province Health Department have not responded to VOA’s request to respond to KontraS on the unusual punishments.
However, in a press conference in the presidential office, COVID-19 Task Force spokesperson Wiku Adisasmito said that it is mandatory for the people of Jakarta to take personal health protections, such as wearing face masks.
Fitri Wulandari contributed to this report.