Sat, 23 Aug 2003

Century-old nursing home attacked

Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The peace of 71 people in their twilight years was shattered after a group of hired thugs smashed their way through a wall of their historic nursing home in Central Jakarta on Thursday.

"The elderly are extremely distressed. We are in a state of panic, not only because of the attack, but mainly because most of the residents are ill, including with heart problems. Several cannot even get out of bed," a staff member from Pniel retirement home in Jl. K.H. Samanhudi, Central Jakarta, said.

The home, established in 1903, is at the center of a legal dispute over the ownership of the building and the valuable 7,000 square meter plot of land.

Dozens of men attacked the building on Thursday, smashing a hole three-meters wide in a wall near a room where the women sleep.

Police were called but no arrests were made.

Staff could only calm the residents, the eldest being 96 years of age, by forming a group circle and praying.

The group of men were still at the nursing home at around 10:30 p.m. last night. Two police officers were guarding the property.

Nursing home director Stien Hitipeuw said the property was illegally sold in 1993 by the West Indonesia Protestant Church (GPIB) synod to the now defunct Bank Tata without the consent of the congregation.

"The congregation sued the synod council over the sale of the property. The court verdict is in our favor, but now the case has been taken to the Supreme Court," she told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

The asset has now been acquired by Bank Artha Graha, controlled by controversial businessman Tommy Winata, following the collapse of Bank Tata during the financial crisis that hit in 1997.

It is unclear who ordered the attack.

The bank could not be contacted last night.

The property, Hitipeuw said, was given by the Dutch colonial government to the synod in 1903, who later passed it to the congregation of GPIB Pniel to manage in the interests of the community.

"As there is yet to be a final decision from the Court on the fate of the elderly here, why did those thugs attack us? Don't they respect the law, or the elderly in the very least? If they demolished the nursing home, where would they go?"

Hitipeuw said the residents were mostly widows and widowers. Others had no relatives at all.

After the property was illegally sold in 1993, the church and the synod stopped funding, forcing the administrators to form a foundation able to seek donors from the community.

"No wonder people want them to disappear, because, as we know, each square meter of land in this business district is worth at least Rp 10 million (US$1,204)," a resident told the Post.