Hoax mars presidential hopeful's campaign

Ms Ratna Sarumpaet (right) lied that an attack by three men last month left her with bruises on her face. She later admitted that they were a result of a cosmetic procedure. She was arrested at Jakarta's airport on Thursday.
Ms Ratna Sarumpaet (right) lied that an attack by three men last month left her with bruises on her face. She later admitted that they were a result of a cosmetic procedure. She was arrested at Jakarta's airport on Thursday.PHOTO: ANTARA

Arrest of Indonesian activist who lied about attack seen as denting support for Prabowo

An anti-government activist in Indonesia, who until Wednesday was also a member of the campaign team of the main opponents of President Joko Widodo in the forthcoming election, has been arrested as she tried to leave the country after perpetrating a hoax on being assaulted.

The two opposition candidates - Mr Prabowo Subianto and running mate Sandiaga Uno - who claim that they were taken in by the hoax have offered themselves up for police questioning.

The bizarre saga was sparked by Ms Ratna Sarumpaet's claim on Tuesday that she was attacked by three men in Bandung, West Java, last month.

The alleged assault immediately drew the sympathy of Mr Prabowo, who later that same day said that he would speak to National Police chief Tito Karnavian about the "clear violation of human rights".

But, just a day after he voiced his support for Ms Ratna, she tearfully confessed that the attack was made up. The 69-year-old former actress was nabbed at Soekarno-Hatta Airport on Thursday night.

Mr Sandiaga yesterday said that both he and Mr Prabowo stood ready to provide statements to the police about the hoax if needed.

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

INDONESIAN SURVEY CIRCLE FOUNDER DENNY J.A

"I and Pak Prabowo, as citizens who obey the law, will surely follow any legal decision," Mr Sandiaga told reporters. "So, if I am asked for clarification, I'll be ready."

He added that both of them had believed Ms Ratna's claims, and were victims in the saga.

Mr Prabowo has asked Ms Ratna to resign from his campaign team - which she did via a letter on Wednesday night.

On Thursday, he apologised "for amplifying something we were convinced was true", adding that his team does not tolerate fake news and will act firmly against members who publicly spread lies.

Indonesian news portal Tempo said that police reports were lodged against Mr Sandiaga and Mr Prabowo - as well as various others in the opposition camp, such as Gerindra Party deputy chairman Fadli Zon - for spreading the hoax.

One of them, Mr Amien Rais, was summoned yesterday for police questioning.

Ms Ratna came clean on Wednesday, admitting that the bruises on her face were in fact the result of bruising following a cosmetic procedure.

She had lied about an attack to cover up her stay at an aesthetic hospital in Jakarta from Sept 21 to 24.

Her admission came after police earlier in the day said they had proof that Ms Ratna was in a Jakarta hospital on the day she alleges she was attacked in Bandung.

 
 
 

Investigators 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 - though police yesterday clarified that they have not confirmed whether she had dipped into the donations to fund her procedure.

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

The Jakarta Culture and Tourism Agency said yesterday that she was indeed leaving for the 11th Women Playwrights International Conference, for which she is a senior adviser, adding that Ms Ratna had asked for sponsorship in January.

With the polls looming next year, Ms Ratna's lies have become campaign fodder.

On Thursday, Mr Joko's campaign team lodged a report to the Elections Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu), alleging that an agreement by the two presidential teams to conduct a peaceful campaign had been violated.

The team's advocacy and legal division director, Mr Irfan Pulungan, told The Jakarta Post he had not singled out anyone individually.

"We don't want to sue any individual," he said. "We only want to provide input to the Bawaslu to be more careful with regard to potential hate speech and hoaxes."

Pollster Indonesian Survey Circle's founder Denny J.A. said that Ms Ratna's lies were a scandal and would dent support for Mr Prabowo.

"The effect is that the electorate is now more negative towards Prabowo. Why? Because this shows Prabowo's team can be easily fooled," he told Indonesian news portal Detik.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2018, with the headline 'Hoax mars presidential hopeful's campaign'. Print Edition | Subscribe