Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
What next on Iran’s nuclear deal: follow the news here

Indonesia and Saudi at odds over abuse of maids

The death of a domestic helper whose body was found in a street as well as claims by another maid who says her Saudi employers hammered nails into her body threaten to strain relations between world's largest Muslim countries.

RIYADH // The death of an Indonesian domestic worker, whose body was dumped in a street, and the recent maiming of another maid are threatening to strain relations between Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, home to the world's largest Muslim population.

In both incidents, the women's employers are suspected of alleged abuse, underscoring the precarious position of the kingdom's household workers, who do not enjoy the protections of Saudi labour laws.

The body of the 36-year-old Indonesian maid Kikim Komalasari was found on November 11 in a street in the southern Saudi town of Abha, a source said. According to news reports yesterday from Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, she had sustained stab wounds to her neck and other parts of her body.

On its website, CNN quoted Michael Tene, the Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman, saying that Komalasari "has died due to the ill-treatment ... by her employers in the town of Abha".

However, the Indonesian presidential spokesman Teuku Faizasyah told CNN that officials had not definitively determined how the maid died.

"It's shocking to hear this ... it's beyond inhumane," Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told reporters yesterday, according to the Associated Press. The Indonesian embassy in Riyadh sent emissaries to Abha to look into the circumstances of Komalasari's death, the news report added.

Her apparent murder comes shortly after another Indonesian maid, Sumiati Binti Salan Mustapa, 23, was brought unconscious to a Medina hospital with burns and cuts all over her face on November 8.

Ms Mustapa, who started working in Saudi Arabia in July, accused females in the house where she worked of inflicting her injuries with scissors and a hot iron.

The hospital worker Miea Mirlina told the Saudi Gazette that Ms Mustapa's "body was burned on many places, both legs were almost motionless, some parts of her skin on her head were removed and strong marks of old wounds were on her body including skin loss on lips and head, a fractured middle finger and a cut near an eye. Her body shows how badly she was treated".

The Indonesian president said on Tuesday in Jakarta that the maid's "extraordinary torture" should be investigated.

"I want the law to be upheld and to see an all-out diplomatic effort," Mr Yudhoyono said.

Yesterday, several groups protested in front of the Saudi embassy in Jakarta and earlier in the week the Saudi ambassador to Indonesia was summoned to the foreign ministry to discuss the matter.

Media reports also said that the Indonesian government is sending the women's affairs minister Linda Agum Gumelar to the kingdom to look into both cases and discuss the situation of domestic workers with the Saudi government. As of yesterday afternoon, the Indonesian delegation was still awaiting their Saudi visas.

Attempts to reach the spokesman for the Saudi foreign ministry for comment were unsuccessful.

A spokesman for the interior ministry, reached as he travelled back to Riyadh from Mecca, said he had no immediate information about either incident.

In a telephone interview on Thursday, Didi Wahyudi, who handles citizen protection at Indonesia's consulate in Jeddah, said that Saudi authorities had already launched an investigation into the assault on Ms Mustapa. According to Mr Wahyudi and another source, her former employer, a Saudi female, has been taken into custody until the investigation is completed.

"We want justice for Sumiati," he said. "We try to do our best to get justice for her."

The former employer of Komalasari in Abha has also been arrested pending the investigation into her death, a diplomatic source said.

Nisha Varia, a women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch in New York who has documented the plight of migrant workers in the Gulf, said that foreign domestic workers have few protections against physical and financial abuse. And when they do complain, Ms Varia added, they often are accused of criminal activity by employers.

"We have documented many cases where abused workers were accused of theft, witchcraft, or making false allegations," Ms Varia wrote in an e-mail.

She added that although employers are sometimes prosecuted for ill-treatment of their domestic staff, the outcomes are not always appropriate. "It's not the case that such crimes are never punished," she wrote. "But we have seen, time and again, that the system is stacked against seeing justice done."

Most domestic workers come from extremely poor backgrounds, do not speak Arabic or English, and frequently do not know where they live because there are few street signs in Saudi cities.

According to the Arab News, about one million Indonesians work in the kingdom, of which 80,000 are domestic workers.



Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National