Indonesian officials are forcing people who break social distancing rules to recite Koran verses, stay in “haunted” houses and submit to public shaming on social media as the country battles to contain surging novel coronavirus infections.
The Southeast Asian archipelago began deploying about 340,000 troops across two dozen cities to oversee enforcement of measures aimed at halting transmission of the disease, such as wearing masks in public.
However, provincial leaders are buttressing these efforts with their own zealous campaigns to fight the coronavirus.
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.
Pictures of the perpetrators are then uploaded to social media for maximum shaming effect, one official said.
“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, head of Bengkulu’s public order agency, 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 masks they’ll just be reprimanded,” local government spokeswoman Agusliayana Devita said.
The capital, Jakarta, this month announced new rules that could see residents who break social 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 about 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 have estimated that the true number of COVID-19 fatalities is several times the official toll.
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