Catholic arrested for growing cannabis to treat dying wife
by Mathias Hariyadi

Affected by syringomyelia, the woman's health improved with medical marijuana. After her husband’s arrest, the therapy stopped, and her health deteriorated until her death 32 days later. Activists call for the release of the single father of two.


Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Indonesia’s Anti-Narcotics Agency (BNN) arrested Fidelis Arie Sudewarto, a 36-year-old Catholic living in Sanggau, a regency (district) in West Kalimantan province, for growing 39 cannabis sativa plants in his yard for medical purpose to help his wife, Yeni Riawati, who was seriously ill.

Riawati died 32 days after her husband’s arrest because she could no longer take the plant to treat syringomyelia, a disorder in which a cyst or cavity forms inside the spinal cord.

Sudewarto worked for the Sanggau Regency, whilst his wife Riawati taught at the public middle school in Mukok. They have two children, 15 and 3.

During her second pregnancy, she experienced the first symptoms of the disorder with paralysis in the right leg. "Local doctors could not understand what was causing her illness," said Yohana Suyati, Riawati’s older sister.

During the five months that followed her second child’s birth, Riawati’s conditions worsened with her left leg becoming paralysed. Eventually, an MRI revealed that she had syringomyelia.

After improving following to “traditional” reflexological treatment, she had a relapse, diagnosed by doctors as “psychological”. For this reason, Riawati was admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

An operation was performed at a hospital in Singkawang to remove the cyst. The surgery had serious side effects, forcing Riawati to stay in bed completely immobile, as if dead.

At this point, her husband Sudewarto began growing cannabis sativa. The therapy had positive effects, with Riawati making a slow recovery and regaining mobility in her the arms and legs.

This went on until her husband’s arrest by Indonesia’s anti-drug agency. After that, it was all downhill for Riawati until she died.

Since Riawati’s death, the case has grabbed media attention, first in the province, then nationwide.

Some human rights groups have criticised Sudewarto’s arrest in light of his motives for growing cannabis.

For Misero, from the Legal Aid Foundation, the BNN should not have charged Sudewarto despite Law N. 35, which bans growing marijuana in view of the "humanitarian nature of the case”. For him, the law should be amended.

Riawati’s medical treatment was stopped by force, with the result that her children lost both their mother and father.

According to Narayana, from the Nusantare Drug Circle, other people have been arrested for the same reason.

In Indonesia drug abuse is a major problem. Cannabis is mostly grown in the mountainous province of Aceh. From here, the banned drug is smuggled to Java to avoid inspections by the BNN and other law enforcement agencies.

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