IN PICTURES: Indonesian Mental Health Association Investigation in Central Sulawesi.

This piece, written by Yeni Rosa Damayanti of the Indonesian Mental Health Association, explores the condition of people with psychosocial disability who live in confinement or shackling, during and post disasters in Central Sulawesi.

The protection of those living with psychosocial disability during a state of emergency is outlined in Article 11 of the Convention of Rights for People with Psychosocial Disability (UNCPRD), which states:

State Parties shall take every action that is needed and guarantees the protection and safety for people with psychosocial disability in any situation of risks, including a situation of armed conflict and in the case of natural disaster in accordance to their obligation under the international law which also includes the international humanitarian law and the international law of human rights.

In September 2018, Central Sulawesi in Indonesia witnessed an earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.4, followed by multiple aftershocks, and a tsunami with waves as high as 5 meters. According to data compiled by the government, these natural disasters, in addition to liquefaction in one village, saw a loss of 2,081 human lives, 1,309 missing persons, 12,568 injured persons, and evacuation of over 200,000 people to 120 locations.

The Indonesian Mental Health Association (IMHA) conducted an investigative study in disaster areas to assess whether or not those with psychosocial disabilities were being provided with the same treatment and care as other residents during and post disaster conditions. The IMHA found that when a natural disaster occurred in Indonesia, persons living with psychosocial disability, who are primarily being restrained and caged within four walls, are most likely to be forgotten in times of crisis (and evacuation). In addition, they are treated as outcasts, without any protection of their rights, dignity or human lives. IMHA accordingly visited several locations affected by natural disasters in Central Sulawesi to observe and record the conditions of those living with psychosocial disability who continue to be shackled post-earthquake, tsunami and liquefaction. This photo essay documents their findings.


YOS SUDARSO: A 17-year old teenager was being shackled on a platform in a stilt house above a 3-meter wooden pole near a small cliff. During the earthquake, his family evacuated themselves to a nearby mountain for two days, leaving him behind. There were no efforts made during or after the natural disasters to release the young boy from his shackles or to evacuate him to a safer place. HERSEN: Hersen was shackled and locked into an empty shed made from wood, located outside the family home, shortly after returning from a psychiatric hospital in 2018. During the earthquake, the family left Hersen behind, still caged and shackled by foot. His family claimed that they left him behind as they were ‘afraid’ to unchain him and set him free.


Sigi District was affected by the earthquake as well as liquefaction. Many victims lost their lives by drowning into the liquefied soil in Kabobona Village, where houses sank up to 3 meters deep. Houses that once had ceramic floors submerged under 1.5 meters of mud, which hardened to form a new floor.

NONO: A 43-year old man with psychosocial disability, not in shackles, found half his body buried in the mud and was dragged for several hundred meters during liquefaction. He was rescued by community members and brought to a safer location, and later evacuated to a shelter. There were no other health-related services provided to Nono WANDI: For a year, Wandi had lived alone, locked up in a 4-meter squared shack. During the liquefaction that caused houses to sink, his family member evacuated themselves without letting Wandi out of the room. Wandi’s wooden shack sank into the mud. Luckily when liquid entered the room, Wandi was dragged out of the shack by the flood. In response to his cries for help, villagers managed to save him from drowning and took him to the nearest mosque for refuge. He now stays in an open hut in the village


SAFARUDIN: Safarudin has been shackled from 2015. He is one of two siblings and was looked after by his 77-year old mother. During the earthquake, his family evacuated without unshackling him. During the family’s ten days stay in the refuge centre, they claimed to have visited Safarudin once a day to feed him.  According to the family, Safarudin’s data was in the village resident database and community health centre’s record, however no support or access to the refugee centre was given to Safarudin.


EDI: Edi is a 41-year old man who lives with his siblings and a diabetic mother. He was chained and confined in a concrete, cage-like room with iron bars. During the earthquake, his siblings and mother immediately relocated to a shelter with other villagers, leaving Edi behind in the house, still shackled. His mother argued that she was afraid that other villagers would not accept Edi and would treat him as a threat, and therefore did not feel comfortable taking Edi with her, and claimed that the family returned from the shelter to feed Edi every day.


RAMLI: Ramli was discharged from a psychiatric hospital a month before the earthquake. During the earthquake, he was not allowed to leave the house. IMHA found that Ramli’s leg was hit by concrete wreckage and he bled heavily, tying a piece of cloth on it himself. Although his wound was later bandaged at the community health centre, he was not provided with the necessary medication and treatment required. He passed away four days later because the wound got severely infected.


SALIM: At 45 years of age, Salim had already been confined for over twenty years in a small, cage-like concrete block.During the severe tremors experienced in the region, Salim’s family fled towards the top of the mountain, without releasing him from confinement. His family claimed to have misplaced the key of the cage. There was no assistance or evacuation efforts for Salim from the local government during and post-earthquake. ABIDIN: Abidin has been confined for several years. During the earthquake, his family took refuge in the mountains for eight days, choosing to leave Abidin at home as they were afraid his presence might disturb other villagers. During evacuation, there were no efforts from the local government to evacuate Abidin.


SAMSUDIN: Samsudin was chained to the wall in his family’s home. During the earthquake, the family crawled their way out and onto the street, then seeking refuge at an evacuation centre for eight days. The family visited the house from time to time, to check on their belongings as well as on Samsudin. They claimed, that since there was no visible injury to Samsudin, there was no reason to unshackle him. In addition, there was no evacuation effort from the local government for Samsudin.

Yeni Rosa Damayanti has many years of experience working on various issues of rights for persons with psychosocial disabilities and her work has not been limited to the mental health sector, often collaborating and engaging with other human rights movements and the cross disability movement.

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