Warnah binti Warta Ni'ing, left, and Sumartini binti Manaungi Galisung arrived in Jakarta on Wednesday after being freed from death row in Saudi Arabia. (Photo courtesy of the Indonesian Embassy)

Saudi Arabia Releases Indonesian Maids Accused of Witchcraft


APRIL 24, 2019

Jakarta. Two Indonesian domestic workers, sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia more than a decade ago for allegedly using witchcraft to kill their employer's son, have been freed after intensive diplomatic efforts, officials said on Wednesday.

Sumartini binti Manaungi Galisung of West Nusa Tenggara and Warnah binti Warta Ni'ing of Karawang, West Java, were accused of using witchcraft to kill their employer's 3-year-old son. The employer and 15 other family members took the case to a shariah court, seeking the death penalty.

A Riyadh court subsequently found the two women guilty and sentenced them to death on Jan. 7, 2009.

With the Indonesian government's assistance, Sumartini and Warnah appealed to the Saudi high court, which last year found them innocent and set aside their death sentences, Ambassador Agus Maftuh Abegebrial said in a statement.

The women were set for release by the end of last year, following the high court's decision, but their former employer and his family members launched an attempt to reverse the court verdict, Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, director for citizen protection and legal aid at the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a statement.

The government sent several diplomatic notes to the Saudi government, including to Riyadh Governor Faisal bin Bandar Al Saud and the Saudi ruler, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

The Riyadh governor finally issued a letter on Sunday, urging the release of the two Indonesians. However, their former employer's family was still trying to prevent their release when Indonesian officials arrived at the prison to take them to King Khalid International Airport.

Sumartini and Warnah finally arrived in Indonesia on Wednesday afternoon, and have since been reunited with their families.

According to foreign ministry data, 104 Indonesians have faced the death penalty in Saudi Arabia since 2011, with 87 of them having been released. There are currently 11 Indonesians on death row in the kingdom, some of them on witchcraft allegations.

"Most of the witchcraft allegations are reported against Indonesian workers in Saudi Arabia because they come from rural areas and often have items with them that raise suspicion among employers or law enforcement officials, who believe those items are used to perform black magic," said Judha Nugraha, an official who dealt with citizen protection diplomacy at the ministry.

It is therefore important to educate Indonesians who want to work abroad about the cultures and norms in destination countries, Judha added.

The Indonesian government placed a ban on migrant workers traveling to 21 countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, due to a lack of protection, specifically for domestic workers.

The restriction was relaxed in March last year, following improvements in bilateral agreements.

Apart from Middle Eastern countries, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan are also popular destinations for Indonesian migrant workers, despite frequent reports of abuse.