Undisclosed Beheading at Heart of Indonesian, Saudi Row

  • by Matthew Cardinale (atlanta, georgia, u.s.)
  • Inter Press Service

Indonesia has recalled its ambassador from Saudi Arabia, but is lobbying the kingdom to commute the sentences of 23 Indonesians who are currently on death row in Saudi Arabia.

'The reason they [Indonesia] are upset is, number one, they were not informed. Usually when it's international, they will inform the government concerned. Number two, they want to protect their citizens,' T. Kumar, Director of International Advocacy for Amnesty International USA, told IPS.

Roiaiti Beth Sabotti Sarona was beheaded after being convicted in Saudi Arabia for the murder of Saudi citizen Khairiya bint Hamid Mijlid. She allegedly stabbed Mijlid several times with a knife and a meat cleaver. The motive for the crime was not revealed by authorities.

Indonesia has set up a special task force in Saudi Arabia to provide legal advice to the 23 remaining Indonesians on death row, in assisting them with their appeals.

'The government is committed to saving them from the death penalty,' said Martua Batubara, spokesperson for Indonesia's Justice and Human Rights Ministry, according to the Jakarta Globe. 'But at least for now, we have secured the commitment of the kingdom' to review the cases.

The Saudi government has also agreed to let 316 Indonesians out of prison to be deported back to Indonesia.

Saudi Arabia has sent back 4,410 Indonesians who overstayed their visas since March 2011.

The 23 Indonesians currently in death row in Saudi Arabia were convicted of crimes and are not facing the death penalty for the sole reason of being undocumented immigrants, Kumar said.

Still, human rights advocates have expressed concerns about the fairness of trials in Saudi Arabia and about the recent increase in the number of executions there.

Indonesia is trying to convince Saudi Arabia to allow the payment of qisas, or blood money, to the victims of the alleged crimes, which would allow the 23 Indonesians to get off of death row.

'It's a common practice. It's something that's sanctioned in Islamic law, like Saudi Arabia or Iran, that claims to be guided by Islamic law,' said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch.

'Somebody may offer a certain amount. It's my understanding the victim has the right to refuse. You often find society will put a lot of pressure on a family to accept blood money,' Stork said.

Stork said Saudi Arabia has an incentive to negotiate qisas, which is to decrease overall their number of executions, thus appeasing death penalty abolition advocates worldwide. 'Saudi Arabia executes a lot of people, far too many,' Stork said.

Indonesia, in response to the execution of Sarona, has called for a moratorium on migrant workers going to Saudi Arabia to begin in August 2011, has created a 24 hour crisis hotline for its workers abroad, and is working to create more jobs at home.

'I decided to apply a moratorium on sending Indonesian workers to Saudi Arabia to be in effect on Aug. 1, but starting from today, steps toward this have begun,' President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said in a national television address on Jun. 23, according to Reuters.

Indonesia's National Board for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Overseas Workers has opened a crisis centre for migrant workers and their families.

'The migrants are treated pretty badly there. There are over one million Indonesians over there doing menial work. The law does not protect them as they should protect,' Kumar said.

In response to the steps taken by Indonesia, Saudi Arabian Labor Ministry Thursday announced a ban on temporary work visas for workers from Indonesia as well as the Philippines, to begin on Saturday.

But Indonesian officials did not seem too concerned.

'They often say that, but as a matter of fact, they're still taking workers from us,' said Muhaimin Iskandar, Indonesian Minister of Manpower and Transmigration, according to the Jakarta Globe.

The diplomatic dispute, which will impact the work opportunities of hundreds of thousands of Asians, seems to stem back to Saudi Arabia's decision to violate international norms in beheading Sarona without notifying Indonesia.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International emphasised that even though it has raised special concerns about the situation involving Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, it is opposed to the death penalty not only in Saudi Arabia, but everywhere.

'We are concerned it's a violation of human rights of any human being- no one should have the right to take the life of another human being - including the government,' Kumar said.

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service