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Jailed U.S. Nurse Is Denied Care in Indonesia

Iowan, sentenced with companion after arrest in separatist Aceh, says hospitals rejected her.

January 06, 2003|Tyler Marshall and Sari Sudarsono | Times Staff Writers

JAKARTA, Indonesia — A seriously ill American nurse imprisoned in this country's strife-torn Aceh province has been denied urgent hospital treatment, she and her lawyers said Sunday.

Joy Lee Sadler, 57, of Waterloo, Iowa, said she would temporarily abandon a three-day effort to obtain medical care after being refused admittance to three local hospitals and then told that hospitals in Jakarta, the capital, were full.

Her lawyers expressed concern about her deteriorating health.

The weekend drama marked the latest twist in the saga of Sadler and her British academic companion, Lesley McCulloch, 43, who came to Indonesia as tourists last summer but were picked up by the army in September in an area of Aceh long known as a rebel stronghold.

The women claimed they were beaten and otherwise maltreated immediately after their arrest. They were then held in detention for three months before being sentenced to prison by an Indonesian court in late December for violating the terms of their visas.

Sadler, who is HIV positive and reportedly suffering from two strains of hepatitis, has desperately sought treatment in recent days to counter the effects of the severe dehydration she developed during a 40-day hunger strike. She ended her fast Saturday.

The Indonesian human rights group Tapol had earlier claimed that the effects of the hunger strike had placed Sadler's life in "grave danger."

Although prison authorities had agreed to a hospital transfer, Sadler was unable to find a facility willing to take her. One of her lawyers, Rufriadi -- who, like many Indonesians, goes by only one name -- said treatment was refused because of his client's HIV status.

"We told the hospital ... this was a matter of humanity, but the doctor there said the hospital needed a good facility to take a patient like her so that nothing would be affected by the disease she carries," he said.

Sadler said her search for treatment began Friday.

Hospital personnel "had guaranteed that they would have a private room for me, [but] when we got there, the room was suddenly taken," she said by telephone from Aceh, at the northern end of the island of Sumatra. "It went on this way for three different hospitals. My lawyers who took me just could not believe it. I wasn't angry. I was too weak ... to be angry."

She said an American consular official, Samantha Yoder, was unable to arrange her transfer Sunday to a hospital in Jakarta, about 1,100 miles to the southeast.

"It seems again that the hospitals are full in Jakarta," Sadler said.

She said she was reconciled to delaying treatment until her prison term ends late this week. However, a U.S. Embassy spokesperson in Jakarta, who declined to be identified, indicated Sunday that no final decision had been made on Sadler's possible transfer to a Jakarta medical facility.

Sadler began her hunger strike in late November -- two months after she and McCulloch were arrested -- to protest their detention. Although academics frequently travel to Indonesia on tourist visas to conduct research, the presence of the two women in the midst of a separatist struggle in Aceh apparently led authorities to react harshly.

McCulloch's laptop computer reportedly contained maps of the area, as well as documents noting onetime Indonesian army positions and articles criticizing the military for alleged human rights abuses in Aceh, and these probably hardened the authorities' reaction, observers believe.

Sadler, who had traveled to Indonesia with her son and met McCulloch only after her arrival, has said she had hoped to find work with a nongovernmental organization providing badly needed medical care in the area.

Despite her ordeal, Sadler insisted Sunday that she would return to Aceh after regaining her health.

"Just give me a little time to go home," she said. "And again, I'll be back. People are suffering. It's your duty before God."

Last month, the Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian government negotiated a peace agreement to end a separatist campaign that had dragged on for 26 years in Aceh and claimed more than 12,000 lives.

*

Marshall reported from Hong Kong and Sudarsono from Jakarta.

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