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Indonesian prosecutors drop 'body in the bath' case

No basis for bringing blasphemy charge against medical staff who bathed dead woman's corpse, they say

Indonesian prosecutors drop 'body in the bath' case

Health officials conduct a mass vaccination for religious leaders at Istiqlal Grand Mosque in Jakarta on Feb. 23 as part of Indonesia's efforts to stem the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: AFP)

Prosecutors in Indonesia have dismissed a case in which four medical workers faced blasphemy charges for washing the corpse of a woman who died from Covid-19.

The charges against the four men — two morticians and two nurses — were dropped by prosecutors in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province on Feb. 24 following a public outcry.

They had been charged with violating Sharia law and mishandling a body at a state-run hospital in Pematangsiantar City following a complaint by the woman’s husband, Fauzi Munthe.

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He said they had cleaned her body illegally ahead of her funeral in September last year.

The charge stemmed from a fatwa (religious edict) issued in March last year by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the country’s top Islamic body.

According to the fatwa, a dead male must be bathed by another male, or his wife or daughters, while a female must be bathed by another female, or her husband or sons.

“The charges against the medical workers were dismissed since there was not enough evidence,” Agustinus Dososeputro, chief prosecutor in Pematangsiantar district, told journalists.

However, he warned fresh charges could be laid “if new evidence is found” and “if a high court judge rules that the dismissal of the charges is invalid.”

He said the medical workers acknowledged that they had to undress the woman to remove dirt from her body.

“They did what they had to do in a medical capacity. So, there is no real element for blasphemy,” he said.

The decision to drop the charges came two days after nine activists launched an online petition that garnered more than 24,000 signatures calling for them to be dismissed.

Dososeputro insisted his office’s decision to drop the case was not influenced by the petition.

Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy director of the Jakarta-based SETARA Institute for Democracy and Peace, welcomed the decision.

He also called on police not to bow to pressure from religious hardliners and press blasphemy charges against people indiscriminately.

“The, SETARA Institute … [wants] the national police chief to immediately issue a regulation dealing with cases such as this to prevent people being arbitrarily criminalized by the blasphemy law,” he said.

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