18,800 of Mentally Ill Indonesians Are Imprisoned in Shackles

Men and women sit despondently, their ankles shackled in chains, faced with the knowledge that they may face gruelling electric shock therapy, or even sexual abuse and violence.

Photo: Andrea Star Reese/Human Rights Watch

These shocking pictures show the deplorable conditions almost 19,000 Indonesian people with mental illness are forced to live in.

The ‘faith healing centre’ that these people are sent to – usually by their families – is taking part in a practice that has been outlawed in Indonesia for nearly 40 years, but shackling the mentally ill is still rife across the country, especially in rural areas where health services are limited and belief in evil spirits prevail.

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report listed a litany of other abuses the mentally ill face in Indonesia – sexual violence, electroshock therapy, and restraint and seclusion in often overcrowded, unsanitary institutions.

Kriti Sharma, disability rights researcher at the group and author of the report, said: ‘Nobody should have to be shackled in Indonesia in 2016 – people told us again and again that it’s like living in hell.’

In the small faith healing centre in rural Indonesia, a man known only as Sulaiman chanted in a confused fashion, tugged at a chain attached to his ankle, and shifted restlessly on a hard, wooden bench.

The emaciated man has been chained up for the past two years. . His family did not know what to do when he began throwing rocks through his neighbour’s windows, so they took him to the faith healing centre near the town of Brebes on the main island of Java.

Now he spends his days chained to a wooden bench, either in the dilapidated, foul-smelling courtyard of the centre or in a dark room with bare, concrete walls.

‘I am a stupid man,’ he chanted as he squirmed around on the bench. Nearby, another shackled man urinated where he stood unable to reach two reeking, doorless bathrooms.

In a dark, cell-like room, a man who only gave his name as Awan said he was often chained up to a wooden bed ’24 hours a day’.

There are just 48 mental hospitals in Indonesia, a country of 250 million, most of them in urban areas. Treatment options are scarce for the millions living in remote regions, leaving desperate families to turn to faith healers in the Muslim-majority nation, some of whom chain up patients.

There is no attempt to give the patients a proper diagnosis, with Sholeh Mushadad, one of the men running the centre, simply saying their families bring them in as they are ‘not normal’.

Those confined in the facility are not given medicine but treated with prayers and baths in herbal concoctions, explained Mushadad, who with his brother and elderly father oversee the roughly 25 patients.

Photo: Andrea Star Reese/Human Rights Watch

He also defended the practice of shackling them: ‘We don’t have any other option. It’s for safety reasons that their feet are chained.’

HRW – who interviewed around 150 people for their report, from the mentally ill to health professionals – said there are currently almost 19,000 people in Indonesia who are either shackled or locked up in a confined space, a practice known locally as ‘pasung’.

At least 14 million people in Indonesia aged 15 and over are thought to be suffering from some form of mental illness, according to health ministry data.

Shackling of mentally ill people happens across Asia but is particularly common in Indonesia, with studies showing that it is due to poor mental health services in rural areas and a lack of knowledge about suitable treatments.

Families that choose not to send mentally ill relatives to faith healers sometimes take matters into their own hands.

Read full article, here

This piece was originally published at Daily Mail / Author: Victoria Finan


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