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Saudi Arabia executes sexually abused Indonesian maid

Thoughtful editorial from the Jakarta Post.

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Tuti Tursilawati became on Monday the latest Indonesian migrant worker to have been executed by Saudi Arabia. She was found guilty of murdering her employer’s father. Since her arrest in 2010 she had pleaded self-defense against frequent sexual harassment that she said finally led her to beat Suud Mulhaq Al-Utaibi to death with a stick. 

The Foreign Ministry expressed “deep concern” over the execution that it said lacked prior notification, violating international diplomatic ethics like in almost all executions of foreigners in the kingdom.

The family of the deceased is in shock as they had clung on to the hope that lobbying by the government, including by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, would save Tuti. 

Since 2015, the government has imposed a moratorium against sending migrant workers to the Middle East, its termination pending the conclusion of negotiations of bilateral agreements to better ensure the protection of our workers. 

Amid all the grieving with each report of an execution, we sense helplessness on Indonesia’s part. 

The government even concluded a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Saudi Arabia to allow a limited number of workers to enter the kingdom despite the moratorium. Workers’ advocates affiliated with Migrant Care, an NGO, demanded the agreement be scrapped as the execution violated the MoU pertaining to the rights of the workers. Many employers reportedly withhold workers’ passports.

Despite many efforts to strengthen protection and advocacy for migrant workers, Indonesia has failed to improve such basic protection, leading to the nearly zero guarantee of migrants’ well-being when employed in Middle Eastern countries. 

These include the kafala (individual sponsorship) system under which employers control their workers’ mobility — including their entry, renewal of stay, termination of employment, transfer of employment — which the International Labor Organization warns is prone to forced labor. 

Since the 1980s young and healthy men and women have left their poor villages, trusting experienced agents and “success stories” of earlier migrants who they hear have sent home considerable remittances after finding work in the Middle East. That so many have suffered and even become crippled or killed after suffering abuse at the hands of their employers, while others ended on death row, prove how Indonesia has still failed its citizens. 

A major root of our helplessness is obviously our own death penalty. Another major source of our zero moral credibility to protest the conditions of our workers in the Middle East is our similar attitude to modern slavery. 

Like Saudi Arabia, Indonesia still lacks a domestic workers’ law, hence maids remain the most vulnerable in the workforce. 

Regarding the death penalty, we only need to learn from our neighbor where Malaysia’s government said the punishment will end. Without legal recognition of our maids and the value of their work and humanity, and by upholding capital punishment, our protests for the likes of Tuti and many more on death row in Saudi Arabia only invites mockery.


Poor kid.

Rest in Peace.

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