January 13th, 2011
01:50 PM ET

Reports: Woman gets three years for abusing Indonesian maid

In what some say is a first for the kingdom, a Saudi woman has been sentenced to three years in prison for abusing her Indonesian maid, according to Saudi media reports.

The woman was sentenced January 9 in Medina, the reports said. According to Saudi Arabian daily newspaper Al-Watan, the employer, who was not named, was sentenced under a new royal decree issued to combat human trafficking.

The maid, Sumiati binti Mustapha Salan, 23, was hospitalized in November after being severely beaten. At the time, a migrant rights group and Indonesian officials told CNN that she had suffered cuts to her face and was also burned, possibly with an iron. The case, which outraged many in Indonesia, also brought international attention to an issue that has repeatedly made headlines in recent months - the abuse of migrant workers in Middle Eastern nations.

Human rights groups have expressed alarm about the poor treatment of these workers. A Human Rights Watch report last year said migrant domestic workers often face isolation and forced confinement that contribute to psychological, physical and sexual violence, forced labor and trafficking.

Christoph Wilcke, a senior Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch, told CNN that the January 9 sentence is the first he's heard of in Saudi Arabia for the abuse of a migrant worker - a small step in the right direction, he said.

"I think that the reason we've had a police action, a trial, a conviction and even a prison sentence is because of the international outrage over this case," Wilcke said. "It wouldn't have necessarily taken place without such international attention to the issue. But even with international attention a few years ago, the Saudis may not have reacted at all. This shows a shift that has taken place in Saudi Arabia."

"Previously, when we have raised the issue of abuse of domestic workers, we got the standard reply of, 'There may be isolated incidents of abuse, but that most domestic workers in the kingdom are comfortable and treated well.'"

Wilcke said much more still needs to be done.

"In 2010, we are seeing some police action when it comes to the issue of abuse of domestic workers - but what we're not seeing are actions against the violation of labor rights; working long hours, not being paid, not having a day off - what can amount to forced labor."

Millions of workers from Asian countries travel to the Middle East to make money and shed lives in their homeland that are rooted in poverty.

Sumiati was one of them, according to the Jakarta Globe newspaper. It reported that her parents were unable to support her and her four siblings and in July, after she graduated from high school, Sumiati left for Saudi Arabia with the help of a labor recruiting agency.

In recent months, more and more instances of abuse have emerged, as they have been reported by Saudi Arabia's local media. The Saudi English-language daily Arab News noted that, in this case, "justice has been done," and said the case "may become something of a watershed."

"There have been other instances in the past of employees being physically abused. But there have been few where employers have been arrested, tried, found guilty and sentenced. It may act as a deterrent in future," the newspaper said in an editorial entitled "Justice Delivered."

According to local media, Sumiati's employer plans to appeal the judgment. CNN could not reach Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Justice for comment.

Didi Wahyudi, the head of citizen protection services at the Indonesian Consulate in Jeddah, told CNN Wednesday that Indonesian officials will also appeal the judgment.

"We will work with Sumiati's lawyer to take the case to a higher court in order to get more justice," he said.

"The punishment is not strict enough, it's a very light punishment. There was more than enough evidence and there were more than enough witnesses - more punishment should have been given," Wahyudi said.

soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. myself

    Just in for indonesia to know...4/3/2011 so much to say there is human rights in Saudi Arabia

    MADINAH: A court in Madinah acquitted on Saturday a Saudi woman who was sentenced in January to three years in prison for severely torturing her Indonesian housemaid. The sitting judge said there was no evidence that the 53-year-old woman tortured her maid, Sumiati Binti Salan Mustapa, 23, while her lawyer said he would seek damages for his client.

    The court suspected the truth of the accusations made by the maid because she refused to take her oath in court, the lawyer representing the defendant, Ahmad Al-Rashid, told Arab News by telephone.

    However, Sumiati’s lawyer said he would appeal the verdict as there was convincing evidence to prove that the maid is telling the truth.

    During the hearing, the Saudi woman “denied everything, saying that the maid had beaten herself,” an Indonesian consulate official said in an earlier statement.

    However, when the judge was shown the photos of the injuries, he reportedly admitted them as conclusive evidence proving that the Indonesian woman was tortured by her employer.

    Didi Wahyudi, an Indonesian official responsible for citizens' protection at the Indonesian Consulate, confirmed that the employer was released because the maid allegedly failed to produce concrete evidence during trial. In January, a court in Madinah handed down a three-year jail term to the woman employer for stabbing, beating and burning the 23-year-old maid.

    At that time, Sumiati's case was taken up by Indonesian leaders, who sought justice for her and called on the Kingdom to ensure more protection for domestic helpers.

    In related news, two Saudi women have been arrested on charges of brutally torturing and killing an Indonesian housemaid in Makkah, while another Indonesian woman was found hanged in the bathroom of her employer in Madinah last week.

    In the first case, Darwasih Udin, 37, was taken to the Makkah-based King Faisal Hospital, where she was declared dead.

    "The maid, who was taken to the Makkah hospital last Tuesday, died because of severe head injuries," said the Indonesian Consulate's Wahyudi.

    In the case of the Madinah maid, her identity and the cause of death could not be ascertained and police are treating it as a case of suicide.

    April 4, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Reply
  2. wenden

    that is nice if it is a co-muslim, saudis decedent was persecuted for thier offense against the house helper while the filipina even a muslim filipina was been beaten, murder, torture in saudi, i never heard of any news that the saudi citizen was persecuted...even blaming the filipinas that is their faith because they worked on the kingdom....what the....

    April 11, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Reply
  3. Brian

    Throughout many years travelling in Asia I have ran accross so many plights of asian women having been abused by Saudian host whom they worked for as a housekeeper. Working too hard, facing verbal or mental abuse by the wife of the host family while the husband at work, often sexual attempts by the husband and last – and this isn't exception – being deprived the right to sleep "you're not being paid to sleep". With travel and commission debts to be repaid and infamiliair with the local legal system which is mostly not backing them up anyway, they have nowhere to escape. For those interested, the Belgian TV recently broadcasted a documentary about the subject. I wish CNN Freedom project could also put some attention to this issue.

    May 30, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Reply
  4. Margie

    Currently Indonesian workers are facing death sentences in Saudi Arabia for attacking their employers. One of them, Ruyati was executed today. Some evidences showed that she -like many others had been treated inhumanly by the employers. Can cnn freedom project also report on this situation?

    June 19, 2011 at 11:53 am | Reply
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