Cyanide and Exploitation: Victim’s family protests sinetron’s similarities to infamous coffee murder

A promotional poster for ‘Sianida.’ Photo: WeTV
A promotional poster for ‘Sianida.’ Photo: WeTV

Jenny asks Amelia to meet at an upmarket café to catch up after years of not seeing each other. Jenny orders a cup of coffee for Amelia, who drank it and immediately had seizures and foamed at the mouth. She died at the scene, with an investigation revealing that her drink was spiked with cyanide.

That is how a scene played out in the first episode of Sianida (Indonesian for cyanide), a new sinetron (Indonesian soap opera) produced by MVP Entertainment and streaming on local platform WeTV.

If the scene above sounds familiar to you, that’s because it was seemingly lifted from the real-life case of Wayan Mirna Salihin, whose friend, Jessica Wongso, was convicted of her murder after slipping cyanide into her Vietnamese iced coffee at a café in Central Jakarta in 2016. 

Despite MVP claiming that Sianida is purely a work of fiction, Mirna’s twin sister, Made Sandy Salihin, took to Instagram to express her ire at what she saw as an exploitation of her family’s sorrow for entertainment.

“[They didn’t have] the decency to ask our family and make a stupid [show] about our family, and they say they were inspired by it. Making it viral so they can get money out of it,” Sandy wrote in an Instagram story.

“How many episodes are you gonna make? We are closing old wounds and yet these people are opening it again for our family. 

“Whether they say they were inspired [by the case] or this was a work of fiction, all of Indonesia knows which family this film is about.”

Sianida producer Raam Punjabi maintained that the series was not based on any particular real-life incidents.

“Cyanide is used all around the world, so it’s anyone’s right [to use it]. What’s clear is that there is no link between that family and the story [in Sianida] and there are no links between the characters and the family,” he told Kompas today addressing the criticism.

One crucial difference in Sianida to Mirna’s case is in the motive of the murder, in that the former portrays a romantic same-sex relationship between Jenny and Amelia. In the story, the victim broke the killer’s heart by marrying a man, which drove her to commit the murder.

Even then, jealousy also played a part in Mirna’s murder, with an official investigation finding that Jessica was envious of the happiness the victim had found in life.

Jessica was arrested by the Jakarta Metro Police after being accused of slipping cyanide into Mirna’s Vietnamese iced coffee at Olivier Café in Grand Indonesia mall in January 2016. The case generated huge interest in Indonesia, with crowds packing out the court during the trial and TV networks showing it live, as well as in Australia, where the victim and the convicted murderer studied together at a design college.

Jessica’s guilty verdict and 20-year prison sentence in October 2016 was controversial due to the judges relying on circumstantial evidence to arrive at their decision.

Also read — In Bad Taste #2: Vietnamese restaurant ad references infamous coffee cyanide murder case

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