News / Middle East

Indonesia: Saudi Sentence of Indonesian Maid's Abuser Too Lenient

Indonesian workers in Jakarta shout slogans during a protest against the abuse of Sumiati, an Indonesian worker in Saudi Arabia. (file photo)
Indonesian workers in Jakarta shout slogans during a protest against the abuse of Sumiati, an Indonesian worker in Saudi Arabia. (file photo)

Indonesia has criticized a Saudi court for sentencing a Saudi woman to three years in prison for physically abusing an Indonesian domestic worker, calling the punishment too lenient.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said Wednesday Jakarta believes justice has not been served in the case of the abused Indonesian maid, 23-year-old Sumiati Binti Salan Mustapa.

He says an Indonesian government lawyer will appeal Sunday's ruling by the court in Medina, which sentenced Sumiati's Saudi employer to three years in prison, rather than the maximum term of 15 years. The Saudi woman, Zanuba Farooq As-Shawaf, was convicted under a new royal decree to combat human trafficking.

Sumiati was hospitalized in November with severe injuries she said were inflicted by her employer, including burns on her head from a hot iron and cuts to her face. The Indonesian made her first appearance in court earlier this month to show the Saudi judge her scars from the assault.

The Saudi government has apologized for the abuse of Sumiati, calling it an isolated incident. The case outraged many Indonesians. Human rights groups say it also highlights the frequent mistreatment of Asian domestic workers in the Middle East.

New York-based right group Human Rights Watch told U.S. network CNN Wednesday the Saudi court ruling appears to be the kingdom's first prison sentence for the abuse of a migrant worker and is a "small step in the right direction."

HRW's senior Middle East researcher Christopher Wilcke says he believes Saudi authorities put Sumiati's employer on trial because of the international attention surrounding the case. He says this shows that a "shift has taken place" in the kingdom regarding physical abuses of migrant domestic workers.

But, Wilcke says Saudi Arabia has not done enough to stop employers from committing other violations of labor rights. He says these include forcing domestic servants to work long hours, refusing to pay them and not giving them a day off.

In another case, an Indonesian maid was found dead in Saudi Arabia in November, with her body placed in a dumpster. London-based group Amnesty International has said it fears the two cases are only the "tip of the iceberg" and reflect a "systematic abuse" of women employed as domestic servants in the Gulf.

Amnesty has called on Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to immediately remove what it calls the "legal climate of impunity" that allows employers to "exploit, enslave, abuse, assault and injure" their domestic workers.

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