RIYADH: GHAZANFAR ALI KHAN
Monday 25 June 2012
Last Update 26 June 2012 5:01 pm
The Indonesian Embassy has stepped up efforts to save 32 housemaids being "threatened by the death penalty" in the Kingdom, said Hendrar Pramutyo, an official of the citizen protection wing of the Indonesian Embassy, here yesterday.
Pramutyo, who feared that death sentences would be handed down by the higher courts in these cases, said that the Indonesian government agencies are closely working with the Kingdom and the legal teams to solve these cases.
Pramutyo said that "these Indonesian maids had been arrested on alleged charges of murder, witchcraft and sexual offenses." The embassy has been trying to help these maids with all kinds of support including legal aid, said the embassy official.
Several female workers, who were earlier granted reprieves from death sentences by the Kingdom, have returned back to Indonesia recently.
Asked about the total number of female workers currently on death row apart from the 32 new cases, he pointed out that a few maids were handed down the death penalty earlier. "The Indonesian government in cooperation with Saudi government agencies and the Riyadh-based Indonesian embassy rescued some of them and are trying to seek clemency for others," said Pramutyo, while thanking the Saudi officials for their support.
In fact, 22 death row Indonesian inmates were exonerated last year by the Kingdom and repatriated back to Indonesia, added the official. He also pointed out that a number of Indonesian workers had been languishing in Saudi jails for quite some time. Many of them were booked for minor offenses.
"According to the last figure, there are about 17,000 Indonesian workers currently behind bars in Saudi Arabia," said the official.
He said that the embassy as well as the Indonesian Migrant Workers Protection Task Force constituted by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono have taken several initiatives to rescue the workers in distress. According to a report published in 'The Jakarta Post', a daily Indonesian newspaper, at least 67 Indonesian migrant workers in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, China and Iran, who earlier faced death penalties, ultimately managed to walk free because of the efforts of the Task Force.
“In Saudi Arabia, 37 Indonesian workers managed to avoid beheading during the last two years," said the report, adding that the efforts to improve communications with leaders of the countries where workers were employed had also helped the workers receive lighter sentences.
"But, Jakarta had decided to maintain its current ban on recruitment agencies sending workers to Saudi Arabia," said Pramutyo, when asked about the possibility of lifting the recruitment ban before the holy month of Ramadan.
He said that the Kingdom had not adopted the legal framework that Indonesia thinks was sufficient to legally protect the workers. "An MoU was submitted by the Indonesian side and an amended version was also shared by the Saudi side, but no progress has been made since then," said the embassy official, adding that the plans are afoot to hold talks further on the subject. Additionally, Indonesia has ratified a UN convention on the protection of migrant workers recently, offering greater rights to workers.
Last year, the Indonesian government placed a moratorium on sending migrant workers to Saudi Arabia after a maid was beheaded, saying the nation's legal system did not do enough to protect foreign workers. Saudi Arabia also adopted a tit-for-tat policy and halted all recruitment from Indonesia till all issues are resolved. Since then, there has been little progress despite several rounds of meetings and talks both on private and government levels.
On the other hand, the Indonesian government has stepped up its reform efforts, but many migrant workers continue to be cheated by recruitment agents. With about 1.2 million Indonesians working in Saudi Arabia, many of them as maids, the two countries have forged closer ties in different sectors, especially in manpower sector. Both countries, being major Islamic states and members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, share common approaches on a host of regional and international issues.
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