Indonesia slams Saudi ‘manners’ in execution row

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Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Thursday condemned the beheading of an Indonesian maid in Saudi Arabia and accused Riyadh of breaking the “norms and manners” of international relations.
In unusually strident terms, the leader of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country said he had lodged a “strong protest” with the Saudi authorities over Saturday’s execution of the Indonesian citizen for murder.
His comments signal Indonesia’s growing anger over the treatment of its manual labourers in the Gulf countries, where rights groups say many migrant workers are treated like slaves and subjected to extreme abuse.
“This week we were shocked by the execution of Ruyati binti Sapubi. Like all Indonesians, I also express sorrow over the disaster,” Yudhoyono told a nationally televised press conference.
“I also express my strong protest to the Saudi government, which by carrying out the death sentence broke the norms and manners of international relations.”
Yudhoyono said he would send a letter to Saudi King Abdullah registering Indonesia’s displeasure, while reaffirming the two countries’ “good relationship”.
Indonesia says the Saudi government ignored diplomatic protocols and failed to inform it that 54-year-old Sapubi, who had been convicted of killing her Saudi employer, was about to be executed by sword.
The Southeast Asian country of 240 million people has recalled its ambassador for “consultations” and announced a moratorium on sending migrant workers to Saudi Arabia, where more than a million Indonesians toil as maids and on construction sites.
Yudhoyono said the suspension would remain in place “until we are really certain there are regulations and an agreement on the protection of the rights of our workers”.
He said Jakarta was considering applying a similar ban to other Gulf states where migrant workers also faced abuse and exploitation in the absence of any legal protection.
Yudhoyono also announced the creation of a “task force” to investigate the cases of 23 Indonesian workers currently on death row in Saudi Arabia for various crimes.
Indonesia lifted a two-year freeze on migrant workers in neighbouring Malaysia last month after Kuala Lumpur agreed to guarantee a set of minimum conditions including time off and the right to communicate with family.
But labour activists said the deal, which did not include a minimum wage, would fail to improve the lot of Indonesian workers until they were recognised under Malaysia’s Employment Act.
The maid’s execution in Saudi Arabia came days after Yudhoyono called on delegates at the International Labour Organisation’s annual conference in Geneva to support a new treaty on domestic workers.
But Indonesian migrant labour activist Wahyu Susilo doubted Yudhoyono was sincere in his desire to overhaul a trade in labour that earnt Indonesia $7.1 billion in foreign remittances last year.
“He said he’s ‘concerned’. Indonesians are all laughing now because that seems to be his pet word for any problem,” he told AFP, adding that the president should sack the ministers responsible for labour issues.
The Indonesia government has known of the mistreatment of its labourers in the Middle East for years thanks to graphic testimony of abused workers and research by groups such Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International.
US-based HRW issued a 133-page report entitled “‘As If I Am Not Human’: Abuses against Asian Domestic Workers in Saudi Arabia” in 2008, documenting multiple cases of extreme physical and emotional abuse.
It found that domestic workers in the conservative Muslim kingdom were routinely underpaid, overworked, confined to the workplace or subjected to verbal, physical and sexual abuse.
Those who complained often faced countercharges, such as theft, adultery or fornication in cases of rape, or witchcraft.