Saudi Arabia’s treatment of foreign workers under fire after beheading of Sri Lankan maid
Demonstrators in Colombo protest against the execution of Rizana Nafeek. Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters
More than 45 foreign maids are facing execution on death row in Saudi Arabia, the Observer has learned, amid growing international outrage at the treatment of migrant workers.
The startling figure emerged after Saudi Arabia beheaded a 24-year-old Sri Lankan domestic worker, Rizana Nafeek, in the face of appeals for clemency from around the world.
The exact number of maids on death row is almost certainly higher, but Saudi authorities do not publish official figures. Indonesians are believed to account for the majority of those facing a death sentence. Human rights groups say 45 Indonesian women are on death row, and five have exhausted the legal process.
Figures for other nationalities are harder to come by. Rights groups say they believe there are also Sri Lankan, Filipina, Indian and Ethiopian maids facing the death penalty.
Nafeek’s execution drew condemnation from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, both of which have campaigned against the death penalty in Saudi Arabia. They say many migrant domestic workers, drawn to the Middle East by the prospect of employment with well-off families, face abuse.
“Some domestic workers find kind employers who treat them well, but others face intense exploitation and abuse, ranging from months of hard work without pay to physical violence to slavery-like conditions,” said Nisha Varia from Human Rights Watch. There are about 1.5 million foreign maids in Saudi Arabia, including about 375,000 Sri Lankans.
An International Labour Organisation report last week warned that an estimated 52.6 million domestic workers around the world lack legal rights and protections. But Varia said Saudi Arabia posed unique problems because legal protections were weaker and the chance of access to justice more remote.
“The Saudi justice system is characterised by arbitrary arrests, unfair trials and harsh punishments,” she said. “Migrants are at high risk of being victims of spurious charges. A domestic worker facing abuse or exploitation from her employer might run away and then be accused of theft. Employers may accuse domestic workers, especially those from Indonesia, of witchcraft. Victims of rape and sexual assault are at risk of being accused of adultery and fornication.”
Migrants are also said to struggle to gain access to lawyers and translators and it is not uncommon, according to Human Rights Watch, for the Saudi authorities to prevent those arrested from contacting their embassies.
Among those awaiting execution is 40-year-old Satinah binti Jumadi Ahmad, an Indonesian maid convicted of murdering her employer. According to Anis Hidayah, executive director of Indonesian rights group Migrant Care, she was arrested three months after arriving to work in Saudi Arabia in September 2006. Three years later she called her family to tell them she had been sentenced to death. Hidayah said the maid had killed her employer, Noura al-Gharib, during an argument.
“She was cooking in the kitchen and her employer screamed at her angrily. Her employer grabbed her hair and tried to bang her head into the wall. Satinah defended herself by spontaneously beating her employer with bread dough and struck the nape of her neck and she fell down.”
Other reports say Satinah snapped after she was accused of stealing money and that she had suffered regular abuse from her employer. The victim’s family has demanded 10m riyals (£1.6m) in blood money, which would save Satinah. The Indonesian government says it is prepared to make a payment, although the figure it is reported to have offered is considerably lower than that demanded by the family. A moratorium was placed on sending migrant workers to Saudi Arabia after an Indonesian maid was beheaded in 2011.
Four other women – Tuti Tursilawati binti Warjuki, Darmawati binti Taryani, Siti Aminah and Siti Zaenab – are also on death row. Tursilawati, 27, claims she killed her employer when he tried to rape her in 2010 after months of sexual abuse. Zaenab was also convicted of killing her employer, while Aminah and Taryani were sentenced to death for the murder of another migrant worker.
In 2012 Saudi Arabia executed at least 69 people, says Human Rights Watch. The previous year it executed at least 79, including five women, says Amnesty International. The death toll included one woman beheaded for witchcraft and sorcery.
Amnesty said it had grown alarmed at the “disproportionate” number of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia being executed. “As with Rizana Nafeek, nearly all migrant workers in Saudi Arabia are at great risk if they end up in the criminal justice system,” said Amnesty’s Saudi Arabia researcher, Dina el-Mamoun.
“In many cases, they’re subjected to whole trials where they can’t understand the proceedings, which are conducted solely in Arabic, and without translation. They are often not given access to lawyers or to consular assistance.”
Mamoun said poor workers from the Indian subcontinent, south-east Asia and Africa did not have the contacts and influence needed to balance a justice system that was weighted against them. “All countries should be advising their residents who might be thinking of working in Saudi Arabia of the risks of mistreatment in detention, of an unfair trial and even of execution. The risks are very real and could be deadly.” Amnesty said it knew of more than 120 people – mostly foreign nationals – on death row.
Saudi officials said that Rizana Nafeek was beheaded in public near Riyadh last Wednesday. She had been sentenced to death for the murder of a baby in her care, although she claimed that the child died as a result of a choking accident.
The Sri Lankan government reacted angrily and condemned the execution. Members of the country’s parliament observed a one-minute silence in her memory. Her supporters had protested that she was only 17 at the time of the child’s death in 2005, and that international law prohibits the execution of minors. It appears that a recruitment agency falsified the age on her passport to allow her to travel to Saudi Arabia.
Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa had requested a stay of execution to allow time for a financial settlement to be agreed with the family of the child.
FACING THE DEATH PENALTY
Tuti Tursilawati binti Warjuki, 27
Arrived in Saudi Arabia from Indonesia in 2009 and is reported to have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her employer until, in May 2010, she beat him to death with a stick after he tried to rape her. Supporters say that she received no legal representation for the first two months of her trial; she was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to death. The family of the dead man are reported to have asked for her execution rather than blood money.
Satinah binti Jumadi Ahmad, 40
Travelled to Saudi Arabia to work in 2006 but was arrested in 2007 for killing her female employer. Over the next two years she faced five legal hearings, which concluded that she was guilty of murder and should be executed. Last month the Indonesian government was reported to have offered to pay blood money of 2.5m riyals (£413,260), a quarter of the sum required to cancel the death penalty. Negotiations are said to be continuing.
Migrant Care, which has campaigned for Satinah’s release, said reports that a deal had been struck for her release were premature.
Has been on death row since she was sentenced in 1999. Zaenab was accused of killing her female employer by stabbing her 18 times. She had travelled to Saudi Arabia from south-east Asia a year earlier to work as a maid. She is reported to have twice been saved from execution by the intervention of Indonesian presidents, but remains in custody. Amnesty said she confessed to the murder while suffering mental health problems
Courtesy: London Observer
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Well, given the lack of entertainments (in the context of what people on other societies seem to do for enjoyment) in this country, it is hardly surprising that Saudis engage in one of the activities not frowned upon by their religious police. Does not even has to pay a Real for the entertainment!
It is up to the countries and people in those countries stop sending workers to these countries and ask those who are already their to return home and live with dignity. If people had ever listen to the story about what happened when the posterior orifice of the human body decided to withdraw the service since it was being treated so badly by the rest of the “IMPORTANT and VITAL” organs like the brains and the heart etc., it will not be too long Saudis learn to be civilized and come begging unless their US friends manage to provide every household with a robot as good as a human.
We are working in this country for a long time. It is not that we are willingly working and living in this country. We are ready to come, if our country (The governing bodies) is treating all of us equally. You can have a look at our parliamentarians and see how many thugs, corruptors and criminals are there. Do you think with these kinds of chacters we will have good furure. I myself found this job and I paid for my pasport,travel ticket and paid for that socalled insurance. Nothing was free.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
I agree to a great extent with what you said. Is it not our culture anyway? Had there been anything different since 1948 or even before? There was a time poor people had to go and ask whether the Head of the Walawwa get offended if they decide to send children to a school, the there was an era owner of a plantation or the Walawwe Hamu telling people which political party to vote for and it goes on.
I do not know very much about China, but from the what I have read and watched during the last 30-40 years things there were parallels and are changing there since people have become richer. I believe with the economic development of a country, people will be more financially independent and will not be afraid to question. It has to come from within the society can not be imposed if the very people like the police is so corrupted and without a backbone to uphold the law.
The world had become smaller – people go abroad and instantly have the access to news. They see, read and hear things and understand things can be done better if there is no corruption. But there has to be a beginning somewhere. That is why it is my opinion (by looking at what they have done during the time of M.R.) that the current government should be allowed to do what they have begun. People can vote them out in the next general election. But then do you think there will be a government they can vote in, that will ‘treat all equally’ and have no corruption?
Please stop to sending housemaids to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia under the monarchist dictatorship is a barabric nation following sharia law, which is totally unjust. Mohamed did not impose sharia law. It was man made in later centuries when women ere treated as second class, just above animals with no rights. Men can do whatever they pleased with their women folk. So, female maids face even worse treatment. They are raped regularly and they have no recourse to law, as the male employer will make false allegations. They are slaves unable to escape.
USA, imperial West nations and UN are to blame for this as they allow the status quo to continue due to vested interests. All human rights orgsnisations around the world can cry till they are blue in the face but SA has a good laugh at them.
SL and other nations need to ban sending maids to SA and demand compensation from SA for the unlawful and brutal killing of their nationals by SA. They can bring the SA leaders to Human Rights Courts in Hague for gross crimes against humanity. But no one will do that so long as they get no backing from USA.
Whatever it may be…!! this government will not stop or bann maids being sent cos this is one of their main incomes. In spite of that being so, never has the government made anyattempts to consider granting consessions to those working. Yet people are made to pay huge sums and even to the government, and when they face a problem they are hoodwinked. Check how many women and men are held at the Embassies!! Are there quick action to get them back on governments accounts. The Embassies re-sell the maid to others like slaves. That is the reality.
IF the government will stop it the income will fall thus depriving them of stealing. Therefore we can be certain, that this government will do nothing to stope women. I bet!!!The attitude is seel our sweat and steal the country.. What a great thing to do. It’s shameful.