Authorities try to silence activists with swab tests, forced quarantine

Source – August 1, 2020
Officials arrive at Walhi office to forcibly take activists to hospital – July 31, 2020 (Selasar)

Zakarias Demon Daton, Samarinda – Health officials in Samarinda, East Kalimantan, tried to force three activists to undergo isolation at a local hospital after claiming that they had tested positive for Covid-19.

On Friday August 31 officials arrived at the East Kalimantan Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) office on Jl Harva in Samarinda and asked the three to undergo isolation at the IA Moeis Regional Public Hospital (RSUD), but refused to show them the results of an earlier swab test.

The three activists were the director of the East Kalimantan Walhi chapter, Yohana Tiko, and two lawyers from the Samarinda Legal Aid Foundation (LBH), Fathul Huda Wiyshadi and Bernand Marbun.

Tiko related how earlier, on Wednesday July 19 at around 4 pm in the afternoon, several officials claiming to be from the Samarinda Health Office arrived at the Walhi and Working Group 30 (Pokja 30) offices. The two offices are located near each other on Jl Harva in Samarinda.

The officials told the occupants of the two offices that they wanted to conduct swab tests for corona virus.

“So we asked, why is that only these two offices have been targeted. They said that the two offices were selected for swab test random sampling because there was a cluster [of positive cases] nearby”, said Tiko on Saturday August 1.

Swabs for polymerase chain reaction (PCF) testing were then taken from all the occupants of the two offices including several journalists who were also there.

The next day, on Thursday July 30 at around 3 pm, officials from the Public Order Agency (Satpol PP), the Samarinda Regional Disaster Relief Agency (BPBD) and the Health Office (Dinkes) came to spray disinfectant.

“They sprayed the office while searching for someone. Satpol PP officers also came into the office. We don’t know who they were looking for in the office”, continued Tiko.

The following day, Friday July 31, police officers and officials from the Satpol PP and BPBD Samarinda returned along with the village chief and the head of the neighborhood association (RT) 33 to take Tiko, Wiyshadi and Marbun into isolation at the IA Moeis hospital.

They said that the three had tested positive for Covid-19 while the other people at the office had tested negative. Yet every day members of Walhi and Working Group 30 interact and have close contact with the three activists that were declared positive.

“We asked to see our swab test results. But they wouldn’t show them and instead [tried to] force us to go to the hospital by getting angry”, explained Tiko.

The three then agreed to go to the Moeis IA hospital on the condition that after arriving they would be shown the swab test results.

“[But] upon arriving at the IA Moeis RSUD they still didn’t show us the test results. Then one by one they just disappeared after we were dropped off. We were just abandoned in front of the RSUD”, explained Tiko.

Later that evening they were picked up by their colleagues and are currently at a safe house in Samarinda.

Wiyshadi said that right from the start when they were given swab tests and picked up later there were many irregularities. The officials were not wearing full protective clothing and some of them only wore masks and face shields. They also refused to show any identification.

“I made physical contact with several of them but it also wasn’t a problem, they’d said I was Covid-19 positive right”, said Wiyshadi.

“So there were indeed many oddities. They became angry when they sprayed the Walhi office. They snapped at us. They said don’t hide anyone. We were confused about who we were [supposed to be] hiding”, he added.

Marbun said that the officials never directly informed them that they had tested positive, either verbally or in writing but that they heard it from their colleagues.

“I was actually informed by my colleagues. They arrived and immediately started spraying [disinfectant] while they searched the office. Apparently they were looking for someone. [Saying] we don’t need to hide anyone”, said Marbun.

Wiyshadi and Marbun are frequently at the Walhi and Working Group 30 offices because they often handled cases being advocated by the two non-government organisations.

The other oddity, explained Marbun, was that officials forced them to undergo isolation at the IA Moeis hospital yet none of the three showed any symptoms of the illness.

“If it was true, that we were positive, why were we forced to isolate at the hospital. Yet according to protocols, OTG [people without symptoms] undergo self-isolation”, he asserted.

This is regulated under the latest revisions on managing patients who test positive for Covid-19. People who are symptom free must self-isolate for 10 days at home or at a public facilities provided by the government.

“It was even stranger that after we arrived at the IA Moeis RSUD the officials at the RSUD didn’t know if we were Covid-19 positive or not. They also didn’t have any data”, asserted Marbun.

Because of all these oddities, the three activists suspect that the issue of Covid-19 was being used to silence democracy and human rights activists. “We suspect that this is linked with the cases that we are currently advocating”, said Tiko.

When sought for confirmation, the head of the Disease Control and Eradication (P2P) division at the Samarinda Health Office, Dr Osa Rafshodia, equivocated that social aspects were a consideration in asking the three activists to isolate at the hospital.

“This pandemic isn’t just an issue of health, but there are social aspects and other things”, said Rafshodia when contacted. Rafshodia however did not provide any details about the social aspects referred to and asked that the interview be terminated.

[Slightly abridged translation by James Balowski. The original title of the article was “3 Aktivis di Kaltim Disebut Positif Covid-19 Tanpa Bukti Hasil Pemeriksaan Swab, Dipaksa Isolasi”.]