Riyadh deports two Indonesian women facing execution for 'witchcraft'

After jailing them for a decade, Riyadh deports two Indonesian women accused of 'witchcraft'
3 min read
24 April, 2019
Indonesian maids Sumartini and Warnah arrived in Jakarta after serving more than 10 years in a Saudi prison, Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, a senior official at the ministry said.

Saudi Arabia has already executed more than 100 people this year [Getty]

Two Indonesian domestic workers sentenced to death for practising witchcraft against their employers’ families in Saudi Arabia returned home on Wednesday after their sentences were commuted, Indonesia’s foreign ministry said.  

Sumartini and Warnah, who both have only one name, arrived in Jakarta after serving more than 10 years in a Saudi prison, Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, a senior official at the ministry, told AFP.

The women were sentenced to death by a court in Riyadh in 2009 but had their punishment reduced in early 2019 after years of negotiation between Jakarta and the oil-rich kingdom.

"After going through a tough negotiation, the embassy managed to convince the Saudi government the women could leave for their homeland,” Indonesia’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Agus Maftuh Abegebriel, told AFP.

Saudi Arabia's religious police enforce the country's strict interpretation of Islam, which includes arresting people for alleged witchcraft.

Sumartini was accused of making the 17-year-old son of her employer vanish by using black magic, although he was later found alive.

Warnah, meanwhile, was accused of casting a spell against her employer's first wife that made her suffer from mysterious illnesses, Indonesian media reported.

Indonesian activists have been demanding the release of the women for years, and staged street protests during the visit of Saudi king Salman Salman Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud in 2017.

Indonesia has long complained about the treatment of its migrant workers abroad and in 2015 introduced a ban on new domestic workers from entering 21 Middle Eastern countries.

Jakarta filed an official protest with Saudi Arabia after it executed an Indonesian domestic worker without notifying her family or consular staff on October last year.

She was sentenced to death for killing her employer in an act she claimed was self-defence from sexual abuse.

Dubious execution record

Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia has one of the world's highest execution rates, with those convicted of terrorism, homicide, rape, armed robbery and drug trafficking facing the death penalty.

On Tuesday, the kingdom executed 37 people for dubious "terrorism" crimes, bringing the total to over 100 for the year, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

The 37 men are presumed to have been beheaded, as is usual for executions in the kingdom, although one was crucified after his death.

According to the official Saudi Press Agency, the group, mostly made up of the kingdom’s Shia minority, were executed for allegedly “adopting terrorist and extremist thinking and for forming terrorist cells to corrupt and destabilise security”.

At least 33 of the 37 Saudis executed by the kingdom in a single day belonged to the Sunni-dominated country's Shiite minority, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.

Rights group Amnesty International also said most of those executed were Shiite men.

They were "convicted after sham trials that violated international fair trial standards (and) which relied on confessions extracted through torture", it said in a statement.

The executions were "yet another gruesome indication of how the death penalty is being used as a political tool to crush dissent" from within the Shiite minority, said Amnesty's Middle East research director Lynn Maalouf.

The rights watchdog said 11 of those executed were convicted of spying for Iran, while at least 14 others were sentenced in connection with anti-government protests in the Eastern Province between 2011 and 2012.

Among those executed was Abdulkareem al-Hawaj, who was only 16 at the time of his arrest, it said.

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