Cosmetic op cover-up: Jakarta police to detain anti-Jokowi activist for 20 days over false assault claims

Anti-government activist Ratna Sarumpaet is suspected of spreading fake news that could cause unrest. PHOTO: TEMPO

JAKARTA - The anti-government activist who lied about being assaulted to cover up a cosmetic operation was detained by Jakarta police on Friday night (Oct 5) and will be held for the next 20 days.

Ms Ratna Sarumpaet is at the centre of a bizarre saga that has swept up prominent members of the opposition camp, including presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto.

She was a member of the campaign team for Mr Prabowo, President Joko Widodo's rival in the April 2019 election, until she resigned on Wednesday over her lie.

Police spokesman Argo Yuwono told reporters Ms Ratna is being held "so she will not run away or get rid of evidence".

Ms Ratna is suspected of spreading fake news that could cause unrest, an offence under the Criminal Code. She is also suspected of spreading lies and hate speech in violation of the Electronic Information and Transactions Law. She could be jailed for 10 years if found guilty, added Mr Argo.

Ms Ratna was arrested on Thursday night as she tried to leave the country.

The 69-year-old said she was not fleeing the country to avoid prosecution, but was headed to Chile to attend a conference.

Ms Ratna grabbed headlines when photos of her bruised face went viral on Tuesday. She said she had been attacked by three men in Bandung, West Java on Sept 24.

But just a day later, after police revealed they had evidence that she has been in an aesthetic hospital in Jakarta at the time of her supposed attack, she confessed she had lied.

The bruises on her face, she said in a tearful press conference, were the side effects of a cosmetic procedure, and she had in fact been in a Jakarta hospital from Sept 21 to Sept 24.

Investigators had said they also found that Ms Ratna paid for the treatment from a bank account used to collect funds for victims of the June 18 Lake Toba ferry tragedy, in which over 150 people were missing and presumed dead.

But they stressed they have not yet confirmed whether she had dipped into the donations to fund her procedure.

Ms Ratna on Friday denied misusing donated funds, telling reporters repeatedly: "No."

Prominent political figures have been caught up in the saga.

Members of the opposition camp taken in by her lies have denounced her actions, with Mr Prabowo - who rallied behind her on Tuesday - apologising two days later for "for amplifying something we were convinced was true".

Ms Ratna resigned from his campaign team on Wednesday as he requested.

On Friday, Mr Prabowo's running mate, Mr Sandiaga Uno, said that two of them stood ready to provide statements to the police about the hoax if needed.

Jakarta Governer Anies Baswedan, meanwhile, defended the provincial government's sponsorship of Ms Ratna's trip to Chile.

The Jakarta Culture and Tourism Agency said on Friday that she had been slated to attend the 11th Women Playwrights International Conference, for which she is a senior adviser, adding that Ms Ratna, a former actress, had asked for sponsorship in January.

Mr Anies told reporters the request was processed in February and "everything has been done since a long time ago".

"We provided this support because she was once chairman of the (Jakarta) Arts Council. So this is a normal process which happens with many artists in Jakarta," he said on Friday.

Ms Ratna - a staunch critic of President Joko - has had a long history of courting controversy in both domestic politics and the local performing arts scene.

She has taken to social media with sensational statements that were later proved wrong.

Last year, she posted on Twitter that the government had sold state air craft manufacturer PT Dirgantara Indonesia to China. She later apologised when the company denied her accusation.

Earlier this year, she claimed that the government had issued a 200,000 rupiah note - posting on Twitter a fake picture that had been making the rounds on WhatsApp - because of the weakening rupiah. Bank Indonesia, responding to Twitter users sharing her post, said it was a hoax.

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