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Indonesian medical workers charged with washing dead body

Petition launched in support of workers accused of breaching fatwa on handling dead Covid victims

Indonesian medical workers charged with washing dead body

A victim of the Covid-19 pandemic is buried in a cemetery in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Photo: Bay Ismoyo/AFP)

A group of Indonesian activists have launched an online petition calling on authorities to drop blasphemy charges laid against four medical workers for bathing a dead body.

The two male morticians and two male nurses have been charged with violating Sharia law and mishandling a dead woman’s body at a hospital in Pematangsiantar, a city in North Sumatra province.

They were charged following a complaint by the woman’s husband, Fauzi Munthe, after the medical workers cleaned her body ahead of her funeral when she died of Covid-19 in September last year.

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The workers face a maximum five years in prison if found guilty of breaching the country’s controversial blasphemy laws.

The charge, which stems from a fatwa issued by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), prompted nine activists to launch an online petition called Jangan Kriminalisasi Nakes (Stop criminalizing medical workers) on Feb. 22 to demand the charges be dropped.  

More than 17,400 people have so far signed the petition on change.org.

According to the activists, medical workers are risking their lives to serve people amid the Covid-19 pandemic, so people should be thanking them instead of putting them in jail because of “ridiculous charges” based on a fatwa.

“The state must free them and drop the blasphemy charges because this case is legal manipulation. Blasphemy is only the view of the Indonesian Ulema Council and such a religious organization’s view cannot be the basis of a legal system,” they said.

“The government must protect medical workers from such cases. They are the ones who fight tirelessly to protect people from Covid-19. Their hard work deserves respect, and their safety must be prioritized.”

The activists also told police: “Never let the blasphemy law become a symbol of a majority group’s oppression or a symbol of persecution against those with different religious views.”

Anwar Abbas, deputy chairman of the MUI, said the fatwa was issued last year to lay down protocols for handling the bodies of Muslims who had died from Covid-19.

“Bathing bodies … must be in accordance with medical protocols and carried out by paying attention to Sharia,” he told UCA News.

“A male must be bathed by males, or the deceased’s wife or daughters. A female must be bathed by females, or the deceased’s husband or sons,” he said, adding that the medical workers failed to observe the stipulation.

Petrus Salestinus, a Catholic lawyer, said the case sets a bad precedent.

“Is a dead body a symbol of religion? Bathing a body is not a crime in the Criminal Code. Charging the medical workers with blasphemy is clearly an aberration,” he told UCA News, calling on the national police chief to enforce national laws instead.

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