Anti-Jokowi activist who lied that cosmetic surgery bruises were from assault arrested while trying to leave Indonesia

Ms Ratna Sarumpaet was caught in an embarrassing lie this week after claiming she had been assaulted, when her facial injuries were, in fact, post-cosmetic surgery bruising. PHOTO: TEMPO

JAKARTA - An anti-government activist who lied about being assaulted was arrested on Thursday (Oct 4) when she tried to leave the country.

The alleged assault had sparked controversy, as the activist, Ms Ratna Sarumpaet, was a staunch critic of President Joko Widodo and the supposed attack was denounced by Mr Joko's rival in next year's presidential election, Mr Prabowo Subianto.

On Thursday night, Ms Ratna, 69, was arrested at the Soekarno-Hatta Airport after the police received a tip-off at about 8pm and worked with immigration to stop her from departing, said Jakarta Police spokesman Argo Yuwono.

Just a day earlier, the former actress confessed that the bruises on her face were, in fact, the result of a cosmetic procedure.

She had made up a story about being attacked by three men in Bandung, West Java, last month after attending a conference, to cover up a three-night stay last week at Bina Estetika, an aesthetic hospital in Jakarta.

"When my children asked me, I told them that I was assaulted. They continued digging into that short answer because they saw their mother was bruised. I never imagined such stupidity," she said, as she came clean during a tearful press conference on Wednesday.

The lie gathered steam, snowballing among her family and politician friends after she went public with the allegation on Tuesday.

But a police probe turned up evidence that she had been in Jakarta the whole time, and that the bruises were the side effects of a facial liposuction procedure at a clinic.

Police said on Thursday that five police reports have been made, demanding that Ms Ratna be prosecuted for creating falsehoods.

During the initial probe into her assault claim, investigators discovered that Ms Ratna had paid for the treatment at Bina Estetika from a bank account used to collect funds for victims of the June 18 Lake Toba ferry tragedy.

Ms Ratna on Thursday night told local media she was already on board a plane waiting for take-off, but police have denied this, saying they arrested her during check-in.

"We arrested her at about 9pm at the waiting room for check-in, where she was planning to leave the country on a Turkish Airlines flight," said Mr Argo.

He said Ms Ratna did not put a up fight when she was stopped from departing.

Police have said that she could be charged with spreading lies and hate speech under the Electronic Information and Transactions Law, but it is not clear if she will indeed be prosecuted.

Ms Ratna claimed on Thursday that she was not fleeing the country to avoid prosecution. She said she was flying to Chile to deliver a cultural speech at an international conference - a trip she said was financed by the Jakarta provincial government.

Her assault claims had turned political after presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto, who was defeated by Mr Joko in the 2014 election, denounced the attack on Tuesday, saying he would speak to National Police chief Tito Karnavian about the "human rights abuse".

Ms Ratna is part of his campaign team for the 2019 election.

Politician Ferdinand Hutahaen of the Democratic Party, one of the parties in the Prabowo coalition, had said that the attack was political, as it took place during the campaign period.

"If it is related to her political activities, then this country is getting far away from democracy. We call on the police to take action and find the attackers," he said.

He has since apologised for his comments.

So has Mr Prabowo, who said on Thursday: "If you're wrong, then you're wrong. And as the leader of our committee, I apologise to the public for amplifying something we were convinced was true."

The former army general also confirmed that he had asked Ms Ratna to resign from his campaign team and she did so via a letter on Wednesday night.

Mr Prabowo said he will not hinder any legal action against Ms Ratna, as "she needs to take responsibility for her actions".

"We also do not tolerate fake news, and that is why we have firmly decided that if a member of our team publicly spreads lies, we will reprimand such actions, and we will ask the authorities to take the necessary legal action," he added.

Founder of pollster Indonesian Survey Circle Denny J.A. says Ms Ratna's lies will dent support for Mr Prabowo.

"Ratna Sarumpaet's lie is on the level of a scandal. That's because she said it deliberately to create chaos in the country. In soccer, this would be a red card," he told Indonesian news portal Detik.

He added: "The effect is that the electorate is now more negative towards Prabowo. Why? Because this shows Prabowo's team can be easily fooled."

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