Indonesia rolls out public shaming for virus violators

Agence France-Presse

Posted at May 29 2020 02:59 PM | Updated as of May 29 2020 04:02 PM

Indonesian airforce personnel prepare to enforce social restrictions amid the coronavirus disease outbreak, at a train station in Jakarta, Indonesia, May 28, 2020. Willy Kurniawan, Reuters

Indonesian officials are forcing physical distancing violators to recite Koran verses, stay in "haunted" houses and submit to public shaming on social media as the country battles to contain surging coronavirus infections.

The Southeast Asian archipelago began deploying around 340,000 troops across 2 dozen cities to oversee enforcement of measures aimed at halting transmission of the disease, such as wearing facemasks in public.

But provincial leaders are buttressing these efforts with their own zealous campaigns to fight the virus. 

Police in western Bengkulu province have assembled a 40-person squad to find lockdown scofflaws and force them to wear placards with promises to wear masks and keep their distance from others in the future.

Pictures of the perpetrators are then uploaded to social media for maximum shaming effect, according to an official.

"People in Bengkulu still aren't aware of the importance of following the rules, especially when it comes to wearing masks and not gathering" in big groups, said Martinah, Bengkulu's public order agency chief, who goes by one name.

"This is for the sake of themselves and their families," he added.

Some of those singled out by police have bristled at the punishment, including fisherman Firmansyah, who was punished for failing to abide by the mask rule while alone on his boat. 

"It's silly to wear a mask when I'm out at sea," he said, after he was nabbed returning to shore.

"There's no regulation to wear a mask in the water. If there was I'd comply with it."

Farther north in conservative Aceh province, those flouting public health regulations have been forced to atone by reading passages from the Koran.

The area's tiny non-Muslim minority are spared from the punishment.

"If we find them not wearing face masks they'll just be reprimanded," said local government spokeswoman Agusliayana Devita. 

Capital city Jakarta announced new rules this month that could see residents who break physical distancing rules forced to clean public facilities -- including toilets -- while wearing vests that label them as rule-breakers. 

To the east in Sragen regency, offenders have been jailed in repurposed abandoned houses that local residents believe are haunted -- tapping widespread beliefs in the supernatural, which play a key role in Indonesian folklore. 

Indonesia has confirmed around 24,000 cases of COVID-19 and 1,496 deaths, but the country of more than 260 million has some of the lowest testing rates in the world. 

Researchers estimate the true number of virus fatalities is several times the official toll.