Indonesians outraged by maids’ torture in Saudi Arabia

Indonesians protest, Jakarta calls for investigation

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The death of one Indonesian maid and the torture of another by their Saudi employers within one week triggered riots in Indonesia, and condemnation by the government in Jakarta.

The two tragedies had also promoted calls by Saudi activists to pressure their government to impose strict rules to thwart any future maltreatment to foreign workers in their country.

The two cases of the physical abuse suffered by the Indonesian maids, one of them dead and the other in a critical condition, were reported this week. The first case is 23-year-old Sumiati Salan Mustapa who was transferred to a hospital in Medina, in western Saudi Arabia, while in a state of unconsciousness.

Mustapa sustained severe burns and wounds, some parts of her skin were removed, and her legs were hardly moving. Medical examinations revealed that she lost a lot of blood and suffered from malnutrition. When the private hospital to which she transferred was unable to treat her, she was transferred to the King Fahd Hospital.

Mustapa’s employer, a 53-year-old widow, first claimed at the hospital that the wounds on the maid’s body were the result of a suicide attempt. She later retracted her statements and admitted to torturing her with a hot iron after her son had earlier told the truth to police.

Pictures in Saudi newspapers showed Mustapa’s badly scarred face, revealing a cut near the eye, a burn in her upper lip, and scattered wounds in her nose and forehead.

The second case is of 36-year-old Kikim Komalasari, whose body was found in a dump in the southern city of Abha. Deep wounds in her neck and signs of severe physical abuse in different parts of her body showed that she had been tortured to death.

Saudi authorities announced that the Saudi couple responsible for Komalasari’s death have been arrested and are currently being interrogated. The names of the man and his wife have not been revealed.

Indonesian outrage

More than 200 Indonesians staged demonstrations in front of the Saudi embassy in Jakarta and protested the treatment of Indonesian migrant workers.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono described the crimes as “beyond inhumane” and called for opening a full investigation. Yudhoyono also formed a ministerial delegation to be dispatched to Saudi to follow up on the case.

Yudhoyono said his government will work on reaching a memorandum of understanding with Saudi Arabia to regulate the treatment of Indonesian workers and avoid future abuse.

“We need to discuss and seek solutions regarding the problems of our workers — mainly those abroad — as there are surprising incidents that breach humanity,” he said before an impromptu cabinet meeting he called to discuss the issue.

The Indonesian Foreign Ministry summoned the Saudi ambassador in Jakarta and expressed the government’s concerns over the treatment of migrant workers.

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Minister Linda Amalia Sari, who visited Mustapa in hospital, is expected to issue new regulations that protect maids working abroad, according to Indonesian media reports.

We need to discuss and seek solutions regarding the problems of our workers — mainly those abroad — as there are surprising incidents that breach humanity

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono

Saudi response

Saudi ambassador in Jakarta Abdul Rahim Khayat held a press conference at the embassy in the wake of the protests and stressed that the kingdom will take all the necessary measures to ensure the protection of foreign domestic workers.

He added that investigation in the two cases is underway and that the culprits will be prosecuted.

Dr. Mohamed al-Zulfa, Saudi rights activist and former member of the Consultative Council, condemned the two crimes and called for deterrent punishments for all employers who abuse workers.

“We also have to raise awareness about the value of human dignity,” he told AlArabiya.net. “These crimes tarnish the reputation of Saudi Arabia and Muslims in general.”

However, al-Zulfa argued that the cases of the two Indonesian maids do not make the torture of foreign labor a phenomenon in Saudi.

“These are individual cases and the offenders are sick people who do not represent all Saudis.”

Al-Zulfa added that ignorance plays a major role in persecution of foreign labor since several employers accuse their maids of engaging in magic practices.

“Unfortunately, the society is now obsessed with magic and employers torture their maids because they think they practice magic. This is also due to the weakness of their religious faith,” he concluded.

These are individual cases and the offenders are sick people who do not represent all Saudis

Saudi rights activist Dr. Mohamed Al Zulfa

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called upon Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East like Kuwait and Jordan to offer more protection for domestic workers.

According to a statement issued by the human rights watchdog, individual cases can represent a “broader pattern of abuse.”

Nisha Varia, HRW senior women rights researcher, said that physical torture is just one of the many crimes committed against domestic works and that other cases of “sexual abuse” and “labor exploitation such as non-payment of wages” are frequently reported.

(Translated from the Arabic by Sonia Farid)