An Indonesian migrant worker prepared to be sent to Saudi Arabia covers her face during an inspection by the police in Bekasi in this June 22, 2011, file photo. (EPA Photo/Mast Irham)

Jakarta Tempers Outrage at Saudi Execution, Amid Cries of Hypocrisy

APRIL 15, 2015

Jakarta. The Indonesian government has protested a lack of notice from Saudi authorities prior to the execution of a mentally ill Indonesian woman in the kingdom, prompting activists to point out Jakarta’s double standards on the death penalty.

Siti Zaenab, 47, was beheaded on Tuesday after serving 15 years in prison for the murder of her employer.

“We did everything we could to free Siti Zaenab,” Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir told reporters in Jakarta on Tuesday.

He added that Foreign Minister Retno L.P. Marsudi had asked the family of the slain woman to forgive the Indonesian worker, and a press release on the ministry’s website said President Joko Widodo had sent a letter to the Saudi king to request clemency for Siti — echoing similar moves by his predecessors Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid.

In Saudi Arabia, a death sentence can be commuted if the family of the victim forgives the murderer, usually in exchange for a hefty payment.

Amnesty International said in a press release that Siti was reported to have stabbed her employer 18 times after allegedly being mistreated by the employer’s son. She “confessed” to the act during interrogation, but reports suggest “police suspected that she suffered from mental illness at the time,” Amnesty said.

“Imposing the death penalty and executing someone with a suspected mental illness smacks of a basic lack of humanity,” Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa program director, said in the press release. “This practice has been widely condemned on the world stage and Saudi Arabia should take this opportunity to reconsider its stance on the death penalty.”

Amnesty says Saudi Arabia ranks among the top five executioners in the world, having executed at least 60 people so far this year, most of them by beheading. The country carried out 90 executions last year.

“Whatever the misguided purpose behind Saudi Arabia’s shocking spike in executions so far this year, it should draw international condemnation. The kingdom’s authorities must halt this execution spree and establish an official moratorium on the use of the death penalty,” Luther said.


The Joko administration itself has come under fire since the start of the year for resuming executions of drug convicts on death row, almost all of them foreign nationals.

In an interview in February — after the execution of six death-row convicts, including a mentally ill Brazilian man — Retno said diplomatic tensions with Brazil and Australia, which has two of its own nationals in the next batch of condemned inmates, were misguided because Indonesia’s adoption of the death penalty was not against international law.

She said Indonesia would defend any of its citizens on death row overseas, but would not abolish capital punishment at home despite accusations of double standards.

“We understand [these countries’] concerns for their citizens. We, too, would do everything in our power to rescue our people facing death sentences abroad,” the minister said.

“But this is a matter of the sovereignty of Indonesian law. We’re enforcing our laws and, as a sovereign nation, we don’t want anyone to intervene with our legal processes.”

Saudi Ambassador Mustafa Ibrahim Al-Mubarak said on Wednesday that there might have been a “miscommunication” between his government and the Indonesian Embassy in Riyadh.

“They knew about the [upcoming] execution, but the Saudi Arabian government might have not reminded them of the execution date,” he told reporters at the State Palace, after a meeting with the president and other ambassadors from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

“I will check what went wrong. I will be in touch with my government to get their explanation.”

Zero moral leverage

In Siti’s home district of Bangkalan, on Madura Island in East Java, her family wept hysterically as the head of the National Agency for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers, or BNP2TKI, paid a visit on Wednesday to inform them of the execution.

“Two weeks ago, the Indonesian government helped us meet mother. We were hoping she would be forgiven,” said Siti’s daughter, Halimah.

“But what can we do now that she has been executed? We’re letting her go and hoping her sins will be forgiven.”

Rights activists called the execution “sad and cruel,” but blamed the Joko administration’s double standard on the death penalty for costing it any moral leverage it may have had in trying to stay Siti’s execution.

“This is a lesson for the president, the foreign minister, the Attorney General’s Office and other relevant parties not to use double standards, so that our diplomatic approaches to rescue Indonesian migrant workers on death row will be fruitful,” said Haris Azhar, the coordinator of the rights watchdog the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, or Kontras.

“Siti’s execution is very hurtful, sad and cruel. Kontras condemns the execution,” he added.

There are 229 Indonesians on death row overseas, according to BNP2TKI chief Nusron Wahid, most of them unskilled laborers in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the government was “defending all of them. We’ve prepared lawyers for them. We are terribly concerned,” he said on Wednesday.

He stressed, however, that Indonesia’s protest at Siti’s execution centered on the failure by Saudi Arabia to notify Jakarta ahead of time, and that Jakarta was not presuming to interfere in another country’s decision to enforce its use of the death penalty.

Slave culture

Cabinet Secretary Andi Widjajanto, meanwhile, said the president had ordered the Foreign Ministry to dispatch a letter of protest to the Saudi authorities over their failure to notify the Indonesian government and Siti’s family about the execution date.

He also extended the president’s condolences to Siti’s family, adding that the president had asked the Foreign Ministry to continue with its ongoing efforts to defend other Indonesian citizens on death row overseas.

The execution has also sparked calls to widen an existing moratorium on sending domestic workers to Saudi Arabia, to extend to the whole of the Middle East. The Saudi moratorium has been in place since 2011, following the execution under similar circumstances of an Indonesian woman there, but Democrat legislator Dede Yusuf said it should cover all the countries in the region that “have a slave culture.”

“We support the manpower minister’s call to end the sending of workers to the Middle East,” said Dede, who chairs the House of Representatives’ oversight commission on labor.

“We want Indonesian migrant workers to be sent only to countries that don’t have a slavery culture. It’s better to send them to countries that have more soft [treatment for migrant workers].”