An Indonesian government official said refusal of Covid-19 vaccination is an act against the law in the country, drawing condemnation from human rights organizations and experts.

Indonesia began inoculating its population against Covid-19 on January 13. The government aims to vaccinate 181.5 million people, or two-thirds of Indonesia’s population by April 2022. President Joko Widodo was the first person in the country to get vaccinated.

A total of 3 million “Coronavac” doses manufactured by the Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac have been delivered to Indonesia to date. While Indonesia will soon receive shipments of raw materials to manufacture more doses, 50 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses are expected to arrive around the second quarter of 2021.

With vaccination underway, the Indonesian government has come under fire for vowing to punish those who refuse it. Edward Hiairej, the Deputy Minister of Law and Human Rights, said that Covid-19 vaccination is an obligation of every citizen. Those who refuse to be vaccinated will be sentenced to one year in prison and fined up to one hundred million rupiahs (US$ 7,100).

Hiariej cited Law 6/2018 on Health Quarantine, a statute dealing with large-scale social restrictions and the obligation of every citizen to comply with regulations related to health quarantine, in issuing his warning.

“So, when it is stated that this vaccine is mandatory, then if any citizen who does not want to be vaccinated will be subject to sanctions,” said Hiairej in a webinar.

In response to the statement, Amnesty International Indonesia said, “Forcing vaccinations with the threat of punishment is a violation of human rights.”

Director Usman Hamid said the government must guarantee the right for everyone to consent to vaccination. He urges the government to educate the public on the benefits of vaccination rather than punish those who refuse it.

“This is an emergency”

Though the vaccine has been approved by the Indonesian Food and Drug Authority= (BPOM), some Indonesian citizens are afraid that China’s Sinovac vaccine for Covid-19 can pose health risks or are otherwise leery of a vaccination mandate. The Indonesian Ulema Council, the top Muslim body, has also declared the vaccine halal, or permissible under Islam.


Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images

Staff arrange containers of COVID-19 vaccines at Soekarno-Hatta Airport, Tangerang near Jakarta, Indonesia, January 12, 2021.

“This is an emergency, it is unethical for people to refuse [vaccination]. The state has thought for the best solution for its people. If it's not an emergency, there are options, but this is an emergency, we have no choice. We have to follow this vaccination. There must be a penalty if you refuse,” Edy Rahmayadi, Governor of North Sumatra, told The News Lens following the first vaccination campaign in North Sumatra, January 14. Rahmayadi is the first person in North Sumatra to receive the Sinovac vaccine for Covid-19.

Maratua Simanjuntak, the chairman of MUI North Sumatra, said according to the MUI fatwa (Islamic decree), the vaccine has been declared holy and halal, so citizens, especially Muslims, need not hesitate to receive a vaccination.

“Holy means free from najis (things that are ritually unclean) and BPOM has also stated that this vaccine is safe, so I urge Muslims not to hesitate to vaccinate,” he said.

Encouraging people to get vaccinated, Simanjuntak called on vaccine skeptics not to influence others’ decisions to receive the vaccine.

“The fatwa is binding for the entire ummah (community in Arabic), but for those who have a different view of the fatwa, it is permissible. But one must not convey it to other people. That means disrespecting the government. If he delivers it to other people, he will receive moral sanctions,” he said.

However, Janpatar Simamora, an expert in Constitutional Law from HKBP Nommensen University in Medan, said it is true that there is an article in the law that stipulates penalties for citizens who break quarantine rules, but the government has never determined a Covid-19 vaccine as part of implementing quarantine.

“It is not quite right to connect the sanctions in the law with an attitude of refusing to be vaccinated,” Janpatar told The News Lens.

Janpatar argued that the government should not apply sanctions. “Refusal is not a crime, but an option.”

“The government’s attitude that links the refusal to be vaccinated with criminal sanctions is very uneducative and even tends to threaten people,” Janpatar said. Vaccination, he added, is an effort that must be appreciated, but the imposition of sanctions is not the main key to the success of the vaccination program.

Shohibul Anshor Siregar, a lecturer in political sociology at Medan State University, argued that citizens should be free to make their choice. “Citizens should have the right to reject or accept, there should not be one such coercion,” he said.

Some public figures have announced that they will not be vaccinated. Last week, Ribka Tjiptaning, a lawmaker of the Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), said openly that she refused vaccines and that it was better to pay a fine than to receive a vaccine. Without referring to any particular vaccine, she argued that vaccines are risk to cause death. “If forced, it violates human rights,” she said.

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TNL Editor: Bryan Chou, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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