Undisclosed Beheading at Heart of Indonesian, Saudi Row
ATLANTA, Georgia, U.S., Jun 30 (IPS) - Indonesia, which has an estimated 1.2 million emigrants in Saudi Arabia, is deeply troubled that Saudi Arabia beheaded one of its citizens in a death penalty sentence without even contacting the government in Jakarta.
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.
The Jakarta Post
Indonesia must abolish death penalty, show mercy
Frans H. Winarta and Colin McDonald QC
Indonesians were shocked and appalled by the beheading of fellow citizen Ruyati binti Satubi in Saudi Arabia on June 18, 2011. The execution again highlighted the use and efficiency of the death penalty as criminal punishment.
The facts surrounding Ruyati’s execution beg for a principled and measured response, beyond diplomatic protests.
Ruyati was a poor, hard-working 54-year-old housemaid who went to Saudi Arabia to save money for her family. As a domestic worker employed overseas she was vulnerable. According to reports, she killed the wife of her Saudi employer in circumstances of self defense.
Other reports suggested Ruyati was often abused by her employer. Her case passed through the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court in Saudi Arabia. It appears the death penalty was sought and justified by Qishas (on the principle of “an eye for an eye”).
The Saudi decision has come in for trenchant criticism by Indonesian legal experts, who point out that Qishas only applies when the act of killing is accompanied by an “ill intention”. Qishas does not apply in circumstances of self defense. There was strong criticism of the Saudi courts, which experts said should have taken the motive into account as required by Sharia law.
The justification of criminal punishment is the protection of society. How did the execution of Ruyati better protect Saudi Arabia? Is the world a better place for the execution of Ruyati? Why were the reported circumstances of self-defense and motive not considered and accorded due weight?
Leaving aside the issues of curial and legal error, the circumstances of Ruyati’s case called out for clemency — but none was given. Worse, it emerged that neither Ruyati’s family nor the Indonesian government was accorded the usual and important advance consular notice. The tragic result is that the family did not have notice to seek clemency, nor did the Indonesian government have the opportunity to seek clemency or make appropriate political representations.
With more than 900,000 Indonesian citizens working in Saudi Arabia, there is a lot at stake for Indonesia. The stakes are even higher given the fact that more than 26 Indonesian citizens are currently on death row there and with more than 216 Indonesian citizens face execution in other countries.
Indonesia has an excellent and highly professional Foreign Ministry, which is one of the best in the world. Had proper notice been given, ministry officials could and would have done all their utmost to protect a fellow citizen. In a democracy, the most important office is the citizen.
The tragedy of Ruyati’s execution and the apparent failure to accord Indonesia the usual diplomatic privileges calls for a principled and measured response. The protection of Indonesian citizens begs such a measured and mature response by a new democracy.
If the foreign minister’s claim that Indonesia was not given prior warning of Ruyati’s execution is true, Indonesia has an option to file the case with the International Court of Justice to have the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations upheld. In taking such action, Indonesia can lawfully, respectfully but determinedly make a statement to the world that Indonesia has an abiding concern to protect the lives of its citizens.
The taking of legal proceedings is both reasonable and appropriate under such circumstances.
There is ample legal precedent that nations must respect their consular obligations where there are foreign citizens facing the death penalty within their jurisdiction.
The execution of Ruyati once again highlights the problems for countries that retain the death penalty, including Indonesia. The world trend is clearly toward the abolition of capital punishment.
A decisive majority of countries has abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.
On Dec. 18, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of a moratorium in respect for the use of death penalty. Had there been a worldwide moratorium, Ruyati and the lives of other Indonesian citizens on death row could have been saved.
The time has come for Indonesia to ask itself whether it is really worth keeping the death penalty as a criminal punishment.
There is a range of factors that suggest it is now in Indonesia’s interests to abolish or at least have a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.
Experience and statistics from around the world indicate that the death penalty is no a greater deterrent then lengthy prison terms.
The retention of the death penalty hinders the Indonesian National Police in its efforts to combat serious transnational crimes. We saw this when Dutch police were prevented from assisting the Indonesian police in the death of human rights activist Munir, because successful prosecution could have led to the death penalty in Indonesia.
Diplomatic relations are predictably and unnecessarily strained when a citizen from a state that has abolished the death penalty receives the death penalty. With the majority of the world’s countries being abolitionist, Indonesia’s diplomatic and economic interests are at stake.
The Indonesian Constitutional Court on Oct. 30, 2007 recommended that the death penalty be used sparingly and that condemned prisoners have the chance to have their sentences commuted to prison terms for proven good behavior over 10 years.
The recommendations of one of Indonesia’s two apex courts are sound and are brought into poignant perspective by the execution of Ruyati.
One way of testing where the practical best interests of Indonesia lie is to have a moratorium on the use of the death penalty and implement in legislation the recommendations of the Constitutional Court.
This would signal a commitment not only to Indonesian citizens
nd be respectful the deeply held values of neighboring states, but also would implement the jurisprudence of the Indonesian Constitutional Court.
The horrible death of Ruyati and the grief of her family should not be entirely in vain. Let there be action and principled leadership.
Moreover, Indonesia follows the Pancasila, one of whose principles is just and civilized humanity, so death penalties based on retaliation are no longer appropriate.
If it is to be an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” this will soon be a blind and toothless world.
Frans H. Winarta is a lawyer. Colin McDonald QC is a counsel and adviser to the Indonesian Foreign Ministry and Indonesian citizens in Australia for more than 20 years.